January 02, 2012

"A Palace in the Old Village" by Tahar Ben Jelloun Explores Immigrant Dreams in North Africa

Tahar Ben Jaloun’s ‘a palace in the old village’ is about the dream of Mohammad, an ordinary Moroccan, to bring his children back together under one roof in his old village. Despite being a migrant worker in France for forty years, Mohammad believes “La France is good for the French not for us…nothing of France had found a place in his heart or his soul.” A decent man and a good father and husband, Mohammad believes "he is a Muslim before being a Moroccan, and before becoming an immigrant. ”  For him Islam is a refuge that “calms him and brings him peace”, even as his children with “their Arab features and gestures” are now ‘assimilated’ French and European, and want nothing to do with his preposterous dream of wanting to bring the family together in their old Moroccan village. Jelloun’s Mohammad is much like Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman and Joe Keller. Mohammad, like Miller’s protagonists, is a modern day tragic hero who is delusional and lives in a happier past that often makes him forget the realm of today, and this predicament and his handling of it arouses reader sympathy.
Tahar Ben Jelloun in ‘a palace in the old village’ is being the ‘witness’ he claims every writer is…. “He bears witness to his time—he tells stories, and in so doing comments on his society and the world.”  In this novel, Jelloun highlights the plight of immigrants in North Africa to show that "emigration is no longer a solution; it's a defeat. People are risking death, drowning every day, but they're knocking on doors that are not open. My hope is that countries like Morocco will have investment to create work, so people don't have to leave."

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