Monday, 11 July 2016

Review of 'Talismano' by Abdelwahab Meddeb

Starting this novel really made me think about just how Westernised my literary sphere is. I've read a couple of Japanese and Chinese texts (translated into English of course), but aside from that I almost exclusively read English and American texts. I rarely even branch out to European ones.

So, I ventured off into this avant-garde text written by a Tunisian author living in France with no idea what to expect in terms of tropes or themes or setting. I've read a few avant-garde texts before, the most memorable of which were definitely A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (a poem by Hugh MacDiarmid) and the poetry of Gertrude Stein. Seriously though Stein, you just endlessly elude me. I was basically prepared for this to be a little intangible as a result of this, and it definitely felt that way once I started the book.

I would probably describe Talismano as a sensory exploration of the clashing cultures of France and Tunisia. It is almost a recollection of the author's experiences in both places that are brought back through the haze of memory. As such, there are very few moments of dialogue, and it is hard to find one clear plot strand that continues coherently throughout the text.

The main message you receive amidst all the decadent sensual journeys of the text is that fundamentalist Islam needs to be altered to bring Tunisia into modernity. Meddeb himself is a strong believer in this ideal, and believes that Western influences may in fact nurture Tunisian Islam to a point of peace and prosperity. 

The book is separated into three sections: 'Return Prostitution', 'Idol Ghetto' and 'Otherworld Procession'. The first section discusses the narrator's return to Tunis, and with this return comes a flood of memories of the brothels he has visited and still visits. The second section moves away from this bodily lust to a feverish mob atmosphere. The third is somewhat self-reflective, and moves between France and Tunisia, discussing writing and politics amidst a once more heady descriptive monologue.

I absolutely loved reading this text - it's like nothing I've ever read before, and was genuinely provocative. It made me pause to consider my surroundings: gather up the sounds, the smells, the sights, the tastes and my own sensations. It made me consider our Western world in an entirely new light. Most importantly perhaps, it opened up to me a whole new text that was like nothing I've ever read before. 

I definitely feel much more encouraged to move away from Westernised texts and see what the rest of the world has to offer. So hopefully my reviews are about to get a whole lot more varied!

Have you read this? What did you think?

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