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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Hot Maroc

Yassin Adnan

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To purchase Hot Maroc

Title: Hot Maroc
Author: Yassin Adnan
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 410 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Hot Maroc - US
Hot Maroc - UK
Hot Maroc - Canada
Hot Maroc - France
directly from: Syracuse University Press
  • Arabic title: هوت ماروك
  • Translated by Alexander E. Elinson

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Our Assessment:

B : a broad canvas, and a droll protagonist stumbling across it

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       When protagonist Rahhal Laâouina is introduced, he doesn't make a good impression. Aside from the fact that the twenty-five-year-old is described as: "short, slight, with a rat-like face, and two narrow eyes", he lashes out brutally, and while readers are told that: "he only resorted to violence when he felt suffocated and consumed by feelings of insignificance" the opening scene certainly seems like an overreaction. As it turns out, Rahhal isn't quite the bruiser he's made out to be -- not outside his fantasy-world, anyway. If not entirely a shrinking violet, he's generally retiring, and not pushy, easily (and quite happily) disappearing in the background. Only in his fantasy -- and then later, behind the anonymity and alter egos that the internet allows for -- does he show some real swagger.
       Those who do notice Rahhal apparently don't think that much of him -- comparing him to a monkey, mouse, rat, or even frog. Rahhal himself sees himself as ... "being closer to a squirrel than to any other animal". Certainly, there is quite a bit that's squirrely to him .....
       Late in the novel, after Rahhal has experienced quite a bit (if hardly matured in any meaningful way), he's summed up pretty well:

     Life is elsewhere.
     Rahhal knows that well and he accepts it. From the beginning, he chose to keep life at a distance. In fact, he preferred to leave it there. Elsewhere. Far from him and his daily routine. He didn't do that out of a dissatisfaction for life, or an aversion to it. Rather, he did so in order to cling to it, out of a desire for it. Scrunching up inside the Squirrel's hole was enough for him, and sleeping next to the Hedgehog at night did him no harm. That was his life and he was satisfied with it. Used to it. Clinging to it. Scared, in fact, of suddenly losing it.
       Rahhal shows little ambition. The three-part novel begins with 'The Butterfly on Its Way to the Slaughterhouse', mainly chronicling Rahhal's university-years. University seems like the safe and fairly simple path to take:
Rahhal didn't want anything from anyone. All he wanted was to finish the year with a degree (without distinction even) that would allow him an opportunity to pass the Ministry of Education examination -- elementary, intermediate, secondary -- not important. The important things was to make the miracle happen, pass some examination, and get a job with the state so he could get a public employee pension number
       Rahhal has a good memory, and he thinks that would be helpful studying in the Department of History and Geography, but soon enough sees that his memory isn't quite of the kind that the subject calls for -- indeed: "It could be said he had the memory of an informant rather than of a historian or a geographer" (which, in fact, later proves to be useful). So he eventually switches to the Department of Arabic Literature, and gets a useless degree in ancient poetry. Rahhal isn't much interested in literature -- never, for example, bothering to read a novel, but then that's typical for him, focused (if one can call it that) on the smallest world around him. So, for example, while at university, he does faithfully go to meetings of the National Union of Students in Morocco -- but, by the time he graduates, he's still never even purchased a newspaper.
       At university, he is paired up with Hassaniya, who is a bit more of a take-charge kind of person, including figuring out just what to plagiarize to complete their project (too successfully for Rahhal's taste: he just wants to get by more or less unnoticed, and isn't thrilled about: "Hassaniya pulling him into the spotlight"). Still, Rahhal has his uses too: when a fellow student threatens to unmask them, he spreads rumors that put the other student on the defensive. It's a game Rahhal plays throughout, notably with his more or less archenemy, poet Wafiq Daraai, whom he repeatedly targets with his anonymous and cleverly worded denunciations.
       Hassaniya decides -- somewhat surprisingly -- that Rahhal would be a suitable husband, and lets him know she's open to marrying him: "I've thought it through, and I am all for it. You can propose to me anytime". Rahhal chooses the path of least resistance and goes along with it --- and, after all, how else would he find a wife ? Helpfully, too, Hassaniya has a job lined up for after graduation: a neighbor, Emad Qatifa, who was successful in business, set up a private elementary school and installed his wife, Hiyam to run it -- and found that Hiyam needed help doing so, Hassaniya proving herself very capable as an assistant.
       Rahhal is then installed in the school as well, in the garage, where he is set up with a computer, copying machine, and three public phones for people to use -- a small operation that grows and eventually morphs into a cyber-café, the Atlas Cubs Cybercafe, Rahhal's little but by no means insignificant fiefdom
       The second part of the novel opens with the death of King Hassan II, in 1999, bringing with it a variety of change -- so also with the spread of mobile telephones and then the internet, as:
The world becomes as small as a village. It becomes available to people in the cybercafes that have begun to spread like fungus, all at democratic prices.
       Rahhal thrives in this new world, creating identities for himself such as 'Son of the People' and 'Abu Qatada'. He takes to commenting on news articles -- finding a validation that has always eluded him in the many 'likes' his comments receive. The cyber café also becomes a small community, with Rahhal as guide and overseer (always with prying eyes) -- though he repeatedly finds he has little control or say over much.
       Rahhal revels in anonymously commenting on online articles and posts -- but finds he isn't quite as anonymous as he thought. The authorities come calling, roping him in to continue what he's doing, but now also working on their behalf. Typically, Rahhal struggles most with figuring out what to do with the additional cash he now has coming in, as they pay him a monthly stipend that is far more than even his wife earns as a salary.
       The final part, 'The Animal Comedy', is more political, with a variety of protests -- "Every day there was a sit-in. The reasons were many, but the resulting protest was always the same" --, party politics, and an election. Rahhal still doesn't like being in the middle of things, and is disturbed to find that: "the safe haven he occupied at the cybercafe would be violated to such a degree". For all his efforts, life does come hard and fast and constantly -- as he then also finds in the novel's conclusion, confronted with what may prove to be his biggest challenge, and certainly a great change in his family circumstances.
       Rahhal remains the central figure in the novel, but there's a great deal of activity and many characters bustling around him. Rahhal remains oblivious, if not entirely innocent, regarding a great deal, and muddles through in his own awkward way -- often to the frustration of those close to him.
       Adnan paints a broad canvas here, of Morocco -- and specifically Marrakesh -- in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the many changes of the times, from the neighborhood to politics to those caused by the internet. It's a busy canvas, as he also focuses on the small-scale, the different personalities and relationships -- Rahhal's general cluelessness an appropriate backdrop to this complex world that in many ways passes him by in a blur. Even if Rahhal's story is at the heart of the novel, Adnan's sweep is much broader -- making for a somewhat loose feel to the whole: it is a colorful and quite impressive picture, but, with its broad reach, lacks a bit in satisfying narrative arc
       For all his faults, Rahhal is not entirely hapless; even if he feels at sea, he does well enough for himself (and surprisingly doesn't pay a high cost for the lives he does his best --occasionally very successfully -- to derail). The comedy -- much of which involves Rahhal -- helps make for an entertaining read, and if some details and, especially characters (not least, Hassaniya) feel somewhat underdeveloped the sheer range of the far-flung work offers other satisfactions.
       An enjoyable big and somewhat meandering novel, Hot Maroc offers a fine and often sharply etched picture of this place and time, a comic tour with just the right edge of poignancy to it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 September 2021

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Hot Maroc: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Arabic literature
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       Moroccan author Yassin Adnan (ياسين عدنان) was born in 1970.

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© 2021 the complete review

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