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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Didier van Cauwelaert

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To purchase One-Way

Title: One-Way
Author: Didier van Cauwelaert
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 152 pages
Original in: French
Availability: One-Way - US
One-Way - UK
One-Way - Canada
Un aller simple - Canada
Un aller simple - France
Das Findelkind - Deutschland
Solo andata - Italia
  • French title: Un aller simple
  • Translated by Mark Polizzotti
  • Prix Goncourt, 1994

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Our Assessment:

B : makes it a bit simple for himself with the unlikely occurrences and actions, but fairly winning

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Believer . 7/2004 Ben Ehrenreich
San Francisco Chronicle . 9/11/2003 Tobin O'Donnell

  From the Reviews:
  • "Wielding a crackerjack pen and a sharp eye for our cultural sensitivities, Van Cauwelaert monkeys with the modern conception of national identity and with the more personal dilemma of knowing one's place and one's purpose. (...) Mark Polizzotti's translation is a pleasure, and there's an added level of ironic delight in reading a book in translation that itself is wrestling with the idea of how people translate themselves across cultures and how, in a world of increasingly porous borders, we interpret our own cultural identities." - Tobin O'Donnell, San Francisco Chronicle

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:

       Cauwelaert piles on the unlikely occurrences and actions in One-Way, making it a bit too easy for himself (and the readers, since this dulls much of the socio-critical edge to his satire), and it begins with the premise: Aziz Kemal was stolen as a child from a car by gypsies, and raised in France among them, with false identity and false papers. French through and through (well, biologically speaking, apparently, since his parents were true-bleu French, for whatever that's worth), his (forged) papers have him a Moroccan immigrant; raised by gypsies, he's an outsider several times over. For the most part that's not a problem -- until the police raid his engagement party and take him away. Set up by the man who sold him the engagement ring and provided his false papers, Aziz suddenly has a huge problem: the authorities want to set an example, and he's the chosen one.
       As they explain to him:

The government has passed measures against illegal aliens. I mean for illegal aliens.
       What they want to is repatriate him -- to Morocco, of course. Aziz is less than thrilled by the idea:
Listen, I'm happy to be an example, but I've lived my whole life as a foreigner in France. I'm not going to start over again as a foreigner in a country where I'll be the only one to know I don't actually come from there.
       But the government has its heart set on fighting racism by sending immigrants back home (though, as Aziz notes, "it seemed like a strange idea to fight an idea by putting it into practice"), and the photogenic Aziz -- who looks more French than Arab -- fits the bill as a much-publicized test case. And the French do go out of their way to help him with the transition, sending along Jean-Pierre Schneider to help him get acclimated -- he's there to: "bring you back to your place of origin, help you reestablish your roots, work with the local authorities to help find you a job". But matters aren't helped by the fact that the village Aziz supposedly comes from (i.e. that was invented for purposes of his false documents) doesn't appear on any map, or that his escort isn't really prepared for this particular task -- "the truth is, I work in public relations at the Quai d'Orsay" (i.e. the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs) -- and has his own personal worries, too.
       Somewhat annoyingly, Aziz too often is willing simply to go with the flow, rather than try to set the record straight. Schneider's enthusiasm even gets him to spin out the fantasy of his rural hometown, Irghiz, and it gets to the point that when they arrive in Morocco Aziz doesn't just ditch Schneider and high-tail it out of there, as he planned, but rather goes along with the idea of setting out for the non-existent place in the Atlas mountains.
       Schneider is certainly suddenly very excited about his mission:
On the one hand, we have to make Irghiz exist in the eyes of the world, so that France and UNESCO will free up funds for an archaeological rescue mission, and on the other hand, we have to keep the site from being overrun by tourists. That seems contradictory, but there might be a way.
       Of course, since Irghiz doesn't exist there actually is no way. Not that Aziz lets that stop them. He enlists the help of yet another figure, Valerie d 'Armeray, who is earning money as a tour guide while she completes her sociology thesis (on group aggression), and who agrees to lead them to Irghiz -- or some place near where Irghiz is supposed to be, where they can come up with some excuse for being unable to reach their final destination ("you can tell him it's too late, an avalanche has already buried Irghiz", she suggests).
       Admittedly, Cauwelaert's storytelling is ... unpredictable, as the tale goes in a variety of unexpected directions. It's a decent approach to questions of identity, home, and family -- but it's also an awful lot for a rather thin book. A lot of this material, and a lot of the satire -- including the wild goose chases -- could have used a bit more embellishment. Instead, Cauwelaert is happy to toss in his ideas, one after the other, rushing from one to the next without developing most of them very fully. Yes, quite a bit of this is amusing (and, in part, quite touching, too), and Aziz is a winning narrator, but a slower pace would have worked wonders here.
       Cauwelaert isn't a natural-sounding satirist here, but he seems to know that: he doesn't push or try too hard, and the comedy here works quite well; if underdeveloped in part, it's still pretty funny. His other ambitions, however, are more out of check -- this is a story that goes all over the place, and while there's something to be said for that (for such a predictable subject readers won't see what's coming) it ultimately also tears the novel in too many directions.
       Fairly enjoyable, but not entirely a success.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 December 2010

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One-Way: Reviews: Didier van Cauwelaert: Other books by Didier van Cauwelaert under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Didier van Cauwelaert was born in 1960.

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© 2010-2021 the complete review

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