The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris

by Leila Marouane
Around the World: Algeria
How obtained: kindle version from Amazon.com ($3)


When we meet Mohammed, he is 40 years old, and on the precipice of making a huge change in his life. He is successful in his career, and successful at hiding his Algerian heritage to blend into French society. But he still lives with his mother, as any normal Muslim Algerian would until they are married. His mother has found plenty of options, but none he has been happy to marry. Previously devout and fundamental in his beliefs, he has drifted from his religion. He feels trapped- his attentive loving mother feels like a ravenous she wolf who sinks her claws into him and won’t let go. And so he decides to move out, and have sex with lots of French women. But things don’t quite go to plan.

This book is described as a tragicomic work of metafiction. Metafiction, fiction in which the author self-consciously alludes to the artificiality or literariness of a work, I agree with. The book is written as through Mohammed is telling his story verbally to someone, and at the start of each chapter the narrative flow is interrupted with a reference to this by a change from first to third person.

“It came over me all of a sudden, he said. I was at my desk hardly listening to my client, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the dome that was shining like a mirage beyond the bay window”

This dissonance was a bit jarring at times, probably made worse by the poor formatting on my kindle version- which often caused line breaks half way through the first word of a sentence and such like things. I wouldn’t agree with the term tragicomic personally- because there wasn’t anything I found funny. I am guessing the comic bit is meant to be him constantly not getting quite what he wants out of a relationship. But I found his obsession with sex and objectification of women to be really uncomfortable and rather horrifying. To me it was a first person monologue of the guy your mother warns you about who ‘only wants one thing’. The guy who will use you but never know you, and will only do and say nice things in order to get you into bed. The guy you need to pretend doesn’t really exist if you are ever going to be brave enough to try dating anyone. One reviewer I read felt that the over the top way he mused about his penis, written by a female author, was actually a parody of the inaccurate way men write about female sexuality. I sure hope so, because I need to go back to pretending that guys like that are a kind of boogey man or fairy tale for my own sanity.

Also touched on in this book, are issues about identity (is it ‘killing yourself’ to hide you cultural background?), religion (how can you maintain harmony with religion/religious family when you yourself have changed), suppression of women and immigration. There are no holds barred by Marouane in this one.

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