Kafka in Tangier

Mohammed Said Hjiouij

Publisher: Agora Pages: 87 Price: (paperback) $11.00 ISBN: 9789920570282 Reviewed: June, 2023 Author Website: Visit »

Mohammed Said Hjiouij uses the concept behind Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella The Metamorphosis for his remarkable Kafka in Tangier, translated by Phoebe Bay Carter. In Hijiouij’s brief tale, Metamorphosis’ bachelor protagonist Gregor Samsa becomes Jawad, a beleaguered young man responsible for supporting his wife, daughter, parents and sister, who all live together in a large apartment in Tangier, Morocco.

While Kafka’s story is a metaphor for a man’s life stifled by the demands of his family, Hjiouij uses his short novel to also demonstrate the corrosive effects of patriarchy and Islamic fundamentalism on all Moroccan citizens. Jawad’s story is told by a narrator who provides a quick summary of Kafka’s masterpiece about Gregor, who falls into sleep as an overworked salesman and wakes up as a cockroach. While Gregor in bug form is generally embarrassed and benign, Jawad awakens as a stinky and angry monkey-like dwarf with demonic powers: He can see through walls and escapes at night, returning to his bedroom each morning with bloody hands and no memories. “He looked out at Tangier by night – a devil on his throne surveying his kingdom.”

Hjiouij’s novel, also told from other family members’ perspectives, is often witty: Kafka himself, “with his unkempt hair, bulging eyes and large ears perked to receive the world’s buried secrets,” makes a cameo appearance in a sewer. And after first seeing her transformed brother, Jawad’s sister Hind references Harry Potter when she says that she felt “Like one of Azkaban’s Dementors was crouching on top of me.”

But the backstories of Jawad’s parents are devastating, and his father’s announcement that “There is no reason for a woman to study,” when he pulls Hind out of college and turns her into a waitress, echoes across centuries of misogyny.

Kafka in Tangier is beautifully written and laced with humor and plot twists. It should appeal to Kafka fans and to readers who love exotic settings and contemporary views of Arab culture.

Also available as an ebook.

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