Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Woman Country by Rachida Lamrabet: the best literary debut of 2008!

The flemish award for the best literary debut of 2008 goes to the novel Woman Country by Rachida Lamrabet. This has been announced today by Boek.be, the flemish organisation of publishers and booksellers.

'A remarkably powerful debut novel.'
(De Morgen)

'A unique perspective on our woman-friendly society.'

Woman Country was published by Meulenhoff/Manteau in the fall of 2007. Earlier this year the novel was also nominated for the Dutch Selexyz Debut Prize.

Rachida Lamrabet (1970) is a Belgian author. She works as a lawyer for the Centre for Equality of Opportunity and Opposition to Racism (Brussels). Woman Country has attracted a great deal of interest and was extremely well received. Her second book, a collection of stories called God's child, has just been published. Already this is hailed as a 'masterpiece' (Knack).

About Woman Country

Resistance or resignation are the only options, or so Mariam the central character in Woman Country believes. A Moroccan Woman in Antwerp who has chosen a Western lifstyle, she embraces her personal freedom, but not without encountering opposition and doubt. The cultural conflicts in Mariam’s life emerge in her tragic story. At the end of a holiday in Morocco she agrees, without thinking, to marry Younes. For five years he waits for her to return. Meanwhile Faïza hopes that Younes will notice her instead. Finally, deciding to deliver one last desperate letter to Mariam in Europe in person, Younes dies on the illegal crossing to Spain. A survivor carries the letter on to Mariam.

To pay her final respects, Mariam goes with her brother to visit the place where Younes’ body was washed ashore. In southern Spain she decides to make the crossing to Morocco. There she faces not only confrontation with Faïza but incomprehension and criticism of her rejection of traditional values and customs. ‘Are you happy?’ a sympathetic aunt asks her. There can be no simple answer.

It is Lamrabet’s convincing interpretation of the characters’ points of view which makes Woman Country so captivating. The novel presents a Moroccan outlook on the differences between Moroccans in Morocco and those who have emigrated; between their own values, which often marginalise Moroccans in Europe, and Western values, including the rampant consumerism that causes such envy in Morocco; between tradition, which so tragically impedes Faïza’s life, and the modern ways of thinking that men find so hard to deal with. Woman Country is how they refer to the West, where they believe emancipated women have taken charge.

Rachida Lamrabet creates above all a subtle and convincing portrait of a fascinating woman, who, standing firmly by her decisions must pay the social and intellectual price. Whether in Morocco, where as a woman on her own she cannot find a hotel room, or in Belgium, where a political party exploits her activism for its own ends, she constantly has to struggle against prejudice. In the cemetery in her native village, filled with melancholy and doubt, she is finally able to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of her choices in life. In Woman Country we are in the hands of a promising writer with a distinctive voice of her own.

English sample translation available.

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