Book Review: Black Suits You

TulipsMy objective behind the Book Reviews section is to write about the books I liked and/or which deal with some “interesting/useful” topic; and so far I’ve been successful in doing so. The previous book I reviewed was a disappointment but at least it allowed me to highlight one or two aspects about Algerian writers.

Black Suits You by Ahlam Mosteghanemi was beyond disappointment. The only good thing about it is that it can be read quickly, especially when you do like me and read only half the words starting from page 200.

I’ve read most of Ahlam’s novels, actually all but I liked Memory in the Flesh more than Chaos of the Senses and Passer-by a Bed. She’s a good writer and I like her style but her novels are all the same. So I was aware that I was going to read just another variant of Mosteghanemi’s work when I bought Black Suits You, but I didn’t expect the boredom I experienced while reading it.

The book is about a 27 yo woman, from Merouana (why?) whose father and brother are killed at the end of the black decade and who becomes a singer and dresses in black. A Lebanese man in his fifties becomes infatuated with her, blah blah blah. And after two years and 300 pages, the telenovela-like story ends as she parts from him and the black dress he liked.

The major issue I take with this novel is that I don’t see its purpose. Alright, an old, “experienced”, rich, famous yet fragile man tries to make a young, naïve and innocent young woman love him and then he finds out her innocence and all make her stronger than him. I wonder why it is always a man with a girl who could be his daughter in Mosteghanemi’s stories…
Then nothing. She of course mentions terrorism in Algeria, the war on Iraq, the Hama massacres but, as I felt it, just to say hey my novel addresses some serious stuff within its shallowness. There is no serious will from her to make her novel revolve around those serious matters. Then she adds up some clichés such as “the Arabs love their dictators even when they want to oust them”, “Algerians like tqar3ij”, etc.
She used some Syrian and Egyptian dialect which I couldn’t read easily and some Algerian dialect as well. The latter probably flatters the Algerian readership as do other sentences in the novel where she praises the Algerian nif, the Algerian woman or when she salutes the humble Algerian diplomat’s humanitarian work just after describing the ugliness of the Lebanese man’s arrogance.

As I said above, I am not supposed to write about books which I find boring but it seems I’ve been unlucky recently for I disliked all the books I read. I even bought a book named Le Noir Te Va Si Mal by Farid Benyoucef and I decided to not read it, at least for now, given that the story includes terrorists and plane hijacking at Algiers Airport. This way I wouldn’t be writing another negative review on this blog.

Anyway, if anyone sees the point in Mosteghanemi’s novel, please write a note.

PS: I laughed when I saw that the novel’s exclusive distributor in Algeria was named “Dar El3izza wel Karama“. Bouteflika must be happy 🙂

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Black Suits You

  1. I read only “Dhakirat al Jasad” from Ahlam before I had recently a discussion about her books on Twitter where she was subject to harsh criticism mainly because she is supposed to always write the same book and to practise some boring “cheap” literature. Since I liked this book, I was surprised by the criticism and wanted to know more by reading “The black suits you” which I did very recently.

    So Mnarvi, it is too bad you read only half of the third of the book to have such a biased opinion on it!

    The whole book can be read quickly. It took me less than two hours to read the original version in arabic.
    You could first find answers to your questions :

    The book is about a 27 yo woman, from Merouana (why?)

    (page 65 in arabic) في ذلك الزمن الجميل، لم يحدث أن أفتى احدهم بتحريم صوت إمرأة ، كيف ومروانة إسم انثوي كدندنة، تخاله أغنية، هي صغيرة وغير مرئية، كنوتة موسيقية، لا توجد على خرائط المدن الجزائرية، بل على خريطة السولفيج.

    This excerpt is in the middle of a description of the Aures region and its music, the part of the book that I liked (as you know, I love this music too).

    So what is the book about? In my opinion, it can be read at different levels. First it can be seen as a love story. I am sure most of the hundreds of thousands of readers who read it and especillay the females liked it as they may like a romantic modern fairy tale between Beyrouth, Paris, Cairo and Vienna within luxurious hotels and restaurants… a bit old but rich and charismatic prince charming and a beautiful young and sad princess…
    As a male cynical reader, no need to say that I was deeply irritated by this apect.

    Second, on a symbolic level the novel can be seen as being about an ambiguous seduction/domination relationship. An attempt of seduction from a charismatic dictator mixing beautiful feelings with money and power to dominate and deprive of its freedom a naïve but courageous Algeria still wearing a black dress and mourning its tragic decade. When things became clear, she rebelled. This interpretation is very clear in the last pages of the book. But her feelings remained complex like the ambivalent feelings of the arab people towards their dictators (which is far from being a cliché and still need to be debated within arab societies). The book is full of thoughts about algerian and arab societies that are well written and are not clichés and most important are not often written in arabic.

    To summarize, although this novel will not leave a big mark on the history of the literature, it is not the mediocre book you describe. It deserves to be read. It is true that it alternates some deep thoughts expressed in a beautiful style with some naive statements worthy of a teenager. For example, her beautiful pages about the grand-father of the woman and the music of the Aures mountains as the symbol of Algeria versus her depiction of the music of the brave Clayderman as being among the must of the classical music!

    And I did’t read the same book as “Dhakirat al Jasad”…

    • Kifesh read half of the third of the book! The least I read is ~ (200+ 100/2)/300 i.e. ~5/6 🙂
      We agree on three points: It can be read quickly, the love story is boring and it is different from Dhakirat el djassad (I said I liked that one and I found Black Suits You boring).

      Perhaps I am too harsh with the novel. I just know that I thought “why do all Algerians start things well and cannot keep the good job up?” when I read it. Had high expectations then khel3atna with (which I was lucky enough to not read) then confirmed the degradation with this one.

      On the symbolic aspect. Although easy to decipher, it was in my opinion overshadowed by the superficial love story. Also, I felt she didn’t go far/deep enough in describing the characters.
      BTW, even the girl in the story disappointed me, I kept wondering when she was going to tarmilou el ma. 🙂

      The Arabs” feeling towards their dictators is a cliché repeated N times everywhere. It doesn’t mean it is not true. I remember one good Iraqi blog where its author used the good old Saddam days to say that things are bad today. Our feeling towards Boumediene is no different. You’d say it’s a novel and not a social/political analysis but mentioning it in just one sentence is useless in my opinion.

      PS: I’ve never been to Merouana. Sah all its inhabitants love music and singing as she wrote in the novel? 🙂

      • :)) Never been to Merouana too… She spoke about the singers and the shepherds only as loving to sing all time. The prayer “ya rabbi naqasli felqout wzidli fessout” is true
        … well it’s a novel.

        About “why do all Algerians start things well and cannot keep the good job up?”… honeslty, except Dostoeiski, I don’t know any writer who wrote more than one or two really good books. Rarely, a novelist has more than one book inside him, the others are more artificial… Ahlam Mostaghanemi is not an exception.. At least, she wrote her good book… many wrote only average or even bad ones.

    • you are very wrong they love music so much have no idea about كرامةand سطيف and it’s clear that you don’t get anything from الأسود يليق بكI advise you to read it again!

  2. Pingback: تعرف معنا على نبذة عن كتاب الأسود يليق بك

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