Friday, November 28, 2008

Delmar Lemming’s Recommended Books: Harraga

Last year I heard Canary-based author Antonio Lozano talk about his 2001 novel Harraga. As I had read the book twice, it was great to learn Antonio’s insights..
Novel writing is a hobby for Antonio who teaches French teacher at a high school around the corner from his home in Agüimes on the south road just beyond our international airport. In the late 1990s, after years of ruminating, he wrote his first work Harraga which was followed by four other novels. All have garnered national prizes and international recognition.
Harraga is the story of a young Moroccan man, Jalid, who abandons his job waiting tables at the Café de París in his hometown of Tangiers. He gets caught up in drug running across the Straits of Gilbraltar to Spain and other illegal activities. His nadir comes when he begins trafficking people in precarious rafts. The story is mostly told by Jalid from prison where he is being tortured and eventually driven crazy and killed, though his death is termed suicide by the corrupt police. It is a miserable study of the underbelly of a very seedy culture, but the characters are portrayed with kindness.
Antonio grew up in Tangiers and his widowed father still lives there. So the book is brimming with precise detail and insights that only a local resident could know. The reader learns a lot about Islamic culture as seen through the quite strict Moroccan society.
Although Harraga deals with the social aspects of Morocco and is charged with political overtones about Magrebi and African development more generally. In this sense, it reflects the concerns of Antonio, who with his wife Clari, is quite politically active here on the island. But Harraga is much more than a social treatise. Its plot development and character analysis both enthralled me. As Antonio Lozano has been so successful in his subsequent writing, I was taken by the great affection he feels for his first book. The nicest part of the evening for me was when Antonio read a chapter aloud as I recorded him on a digital recorder which I always carry around.
Antonio enjoys a privileged lifestyle in that his wife Clari and his best friend next door and his best friend’s wife all read his work and provide useful criticism. Best of all, they take an active interest in his writing and make a fuss over their “neighborhood author” which must make writing even more appealing. To be surrounded by readers who want to read your stuff must be heaven. In fact, he dedicates his recent novel Donde Mueren los Ríos (Where the Rivers Die) to Clari. It was nice to see literature carried on amid such warmth and affection.
If you manage to find Harraga in a local bookshop, buy it. I recommend it, particularly if you are interested in the topic of human migration in our area. I should warn you, this is a difficult book to find but most local libraries have copies.

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