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Shelves: 21st-century-fiction , literature-in-translation I have made a goal this year to read more literature written in countries outside the English speaking world. He is bilingual in Arabic and French but writes in French because to him Arabic is a sacred language, given by God in the shape of the Koran, it is intimidatingone feels very small in front of this language.
I had read his most I have made a goal this year to read more literature written in countries outside the English speaking world. I had read his most well known novel, The Sand Child, some years ago and was struck by a style of story telling that felt foreign to me, but elicited a strong emotional reaction. I realized then how various are the ways stories are told in different cultures and thus how various are the ways life can be lived and approached, just on one little planet.
In The Happy Marriage, perhaps Ben Jelloun is giving us a look at marriage through Moroccan eyes, inclusive of both those who live in the country and those who emigrate to France, as many Moroccans have done.
The marriage in his novel is in crisis due to patriarchal views held by the husband, the large difference in age and class between husband and wife, and the relentless encroaching of struggles by women the world over for equal rights.
The book opens a few months after the husband, a famous painter, has suffered a massive stroke. He blames the stroke on his wife and their increasingly violent arguments even though he is overweight and had been diagnosed with hypertension some years ago. This man has had much success as a painter and has been a continuous womanizer since even before his marriage.
He thinks quite highly of himself and relates his amorous liaisons contrasted with the recriminations his wife pours on his head. As I read I began to realize that the painter is both an unreliable narrator as well as a man who feels it is his privilege to live as he pleases, have affairs, travel the world and hoard his money, as long as he gives his wife enough to run the household.
They have children whom she is tasked with raising. All he wants from them is their love and adoration. Also, though the marriage was not arranged and supposedly entered into with love on both sides, the wife is much younger and comes from a small, impoverished Moroccan village.
The painter wanted a woman to give him children and the wife wanted to move up in class and affluence. Their two families have never gotten along and this class conflict is a virulent source of trouble for the couple. Different here is the anger exhibited by the wife. Shortly after the birth of their first child she became aware of his infidelities and his stinginess with money and made no secret about her fury.
Also different is how entertaining Ben Jelloun manages to be even while the couple wage their battles. Surely all women get mad at their husbands and dream of ways to retaliate but this one goes ahead and does it! Even so, the husband holds most of the power except for one crucial point. Though he has told her he wants to end the marriage, she refuses to agree and manages to outwit him with his lawyers.
A stalemate of almost a year ensues. Marriage is as fluid as any other aspect of life. It succeeds or fails due to the personalities involved no matter the society or culture. If there is any hope in the novel, it is that a woman empowered has options, even in a fundamentalist country.
Tahar Ben Jelloun plonge dans l'enfer conjugal
Le Bonheur conjugal
Le bonheur conjugal de Tahar Ben Jelloun chez Gallimard (Paris, France)