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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Passage of Tears

Abdourahman A. Waberi

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To purchase Passage of Tears

Title: Passage of Tears
Author: Abdourahman A. Waberi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 216 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Passage of Tears - US
Passage of Tears - UK
Passage of Tears - Canada
Passage des larmes - Canada
Passage of Tears - India
Passage des larmes - France
Tor der Tränen - Deutschland
Pasaje de lágrimas - España
  • French title: Passage des larmes
  • Translated by David and Nicole Ball

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely done study of contrasts and conflicts in the contemporary world

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Figaro . 22/10/2009 Mohammed Aïssaoui
Hudson Review . Fall/2012 Tess Lewis
L'Humanité . 27/8/2009 Muriel Steinmetz
Publishers Weekly . 3/10/2011 .
Svenska Dagbladet . 31/1/2010 Karl Steinick

  From the Reviews:
  • "Il y a des romans que l'on regrette d'avoir attendu pour les lire. Ainsi aurait-on dû ouvrir bien plus tôt ce Passage des larmes: c'est un livre d'une rare puissance, fiévreux, et qui résonne encore longtemps après que l'on a terminés la lecture. Abdourahman Waberi parle d'exil et d'enfance, de terre oubliée et de souvenirs qui reviennent comme des coups de poing dans l'estomac." - Mohammed Aïssaoui, Le Figaro

  • "All of these elements (...) could make for a terribly tendentious, heavy-handed novel, but Waberi is too sly and deft a writer." - Tess Lewis, Hudson Review

  • "Cette figure de l'intellectuel contraint à l'exil, pris dans une souricière et qui se donna la mort, est ce qui cimente les diverses parties de ce livre qui constitue, sans doute, un autoportrait de l'auteur en deux volets ; celui qui est parti et celui qui est resté, les deux se ressemblant comme deux frères quand bien même leurs destins paraissent infiniment différents, chacun étant dans un camp donné. À travers ces deux figures jumelées à celle de Walter Benjamin, il est clair que Abdourahman A. Waberi a tenté, d'une manière systématique, voire ostensible, d'écrire le roman actuel de son pays déchiré." - Muriel Steinmetz, L'Humanité

  • "An inventive and compelling experiment, the novel never loses sight of human feeling even as it grapples with the heaviest of socioglobal matters." - Publishers Weekly

  • "I denna skildring av en hemfärd utan återvändo lägger Waberi bitarna på plats med lätthet. Komplikationerna finns där, men inte på det samhällskritiska planet. Det politiska temat av dagsaktuell karaktär framträder tydligt, möjligen väl tydligt, men det är som en existentiell omvärldsanalys romanen bör läsas för att ge största utdelning." - Karl Steinick, Svenska Dagbladet

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Passage of Tears is a novel of two brothers whose paths have diverged but suddenly find themselves on a collision course of sorts.
       Djibril was born in the tiny but strategically significant outpost on the Horn of Africa, Djibouti, on "26 June 1977, on the Eve of Independence", while his twin brother Djamal was born twenty-eight minutes later, just past midnight, in the already independent new state. Just as they were born in two different worlds they also wound up in very different worlds. The more outgoing and active Djibril eventually wound up in Canada -- in Montreal, which he calls the "city that saved my life". He studied down-to-earth and substantial science -- "in order to stop dreaming" -- and got his degree in computer science. A part-time lecturer at McGill with a French-Canadian girlfriend almost a decade older than him, he also works for: "the economic intelligence company Adorno Location Scouting".
       Djamal always buried himself in books as a child -- until: "One day I opened the Koran and my whole life was changed by it." Now he argues:

It is easy to lose oneself in literature. It does bring back the princesses of former times but you learn nothing of the great mystery of life. The charm of those paper characters is as artificial as your own life, my false brother.
       Djibouti stands at several crossroads, its geographic position making it a sought-after partner: from the American Camp Lemonnier military base there to the grandiose plans for the Bridge of the Horns connecting Djibouti and Yemen the small port nation finds it is increasingly a hub of regional politics and commerce. This is also what leads Djibril back to his homeland, as he is working on a report for Adorno Location Scouting assessing current conditions -- information those who are thinking of investing (or are otherwise concerned about the political situation) in the region are eager to have.
       Passage of Tears is largely narrated in alternating chapters, in one set Djibril recording his experiences and thoughts, in the other a well-informed Djamal following from afar the footsteps (and everything else) of the brother he sees as having betrayed everything he stands for:
     We are closely monitoring your every move. We know all about you, the cover of your bedside book and the brand of your toothpaste. Every word you say is reported to us, all the way to this watertight cell.
       That book on Djibril's bedside is another uniting thread, as both find themselves obsessed by Walter Benjamin -- in particular his conception of history. Benjamin -- his ideas, his story, and of course his fate (a suicide as he tried to escape the Nazis) -- accompanies Djibril on his expedition through his homeland, while even Djamal is sufficiently intrigued to get his head out of just the Koran once again.
       The back and forth of chapters makes for something of a cat and mouse game -- though it is, at first, unclear to what extent Djibril understands that he is the hunted. Fortunately, Waberi also does not reduce his inner conflict simplistically to him being torn between his old world and his new life (though the deadline Waberi sets him -- after a certain point Adorno won't pay for his stay (or, significantly, safety) and he is literally on his own -- seems an unnecessary additional bit of pressure put on him, the one cheap thriller-element added to the story). The clashes of old and new -- whether modernity and tradition, computer science and religion, or globalism and the provincially local -- are woven together well here.
       Passage of Tears is a cerebral modern thriller (of sorts) that defies easy categorization. It sets itself apart from other contemporary global-lit -- think Hari Kunzru or David Mitchell -- not in how it is also rooted in two different worlds but in the breadth and depth of its perspectives (even as, in its relative concision, it avoids the painstaking detail so commonly found in contemporary global-lit). Passage of Tears is not only equally at ease in both First and Third Worlds (and all their trappings), but Waberi manages the rare feat of handling and integrating Western intellectual and political thought as comfortably and convincingly as he does the ideologies and culture of the Horn of Africa (and that without overwhelming the actual fiction).
       Elusive and elliptic in part, Passage of Tears might frustrate in not quite being the thriller its framework suggests, but in not limiting itself to that proves, in fact, to be a more interesting and rewarding work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 December 2011

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Passage of Tears: Reviews: Abdourahman A. Waberi: Other books by Abdourahman A. Waberi under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       Abdourahman A. Waberi was born in Djibouti in 1965.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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