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Kamal Ben Hameda – Under The Tripoli Sky

Book Cover

Time passes. Separately.

Publisher: Peirene Press
Pages: 96
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-908-67016-8
First Published: 2012 in French; 2014 in English
Date Reviewed: 2nd September 2014
Rating: 4/5

Original language: French
Original title: La Compagnie des Tripolitaines (The Company of Tripolitans)
Translated by: Adriana Hunter

Hadachinou, a child in 1960s Tripoli, Libya, tells the reader about his mother and neighbours, citing with a child’s frankness the differences in gender, religion, and race.

It would be fair to say that Under The Tripoli Sky is a society-driven book. Neither character nor plot driven, even though there is time spent on Hadachinou’s development, the novella is very much a vignette rather than a ‘proper’ narrative, more ripe for study and deep thought than average enjoyment.

Hadachinou spends his days with his mother (as much as she will let him), observing her friendships and the relations and lives of others. It should be noted that although he is frank, the narrative is written in a way that suggests hindsight and so there is a maturity to his discussions of slavery and freedom as though he has since grown up. Hadachinou the majority of his time observing, meaning that time is spent solely on the issues and cultural dynamics.

There are many cultures at play, though you could place them into three categories: the original Muslim culture of Tripoli, the cultures of the Jews, Christians, and American forces discussed, and the new hybrid that arrived with the European and American people who have settled there. Most of the attention is on the Muslim culture and the way it differs from the new hybrid, and this illustrated by the family dynamics. The women gather together to discuss their dreams, their wishes, and much is said of those who don’t align with the accepted values. The woman who killed her abusive husband; the woman who has had many men. Hadachinou, who neither condemns nor agrees, tells us about the beatings and unhappiness some of the women suffer, meaning that we hear three ‘sides’ – the women’s, the women’s from Hadachinou’s observations, and the men’s, also from Hadachinou. In this case, given the focus of the book, life from the men’s perspective is not needed. The book looks at the future through a lens of equality, tradition balanced by the new.

As for race, Tripoli is multi-cultural. Hadachinou talks of those who have assimilated themselves (somewhat) into the community, people who have been slaves or whose ancestors were slaves, those of African origin. In race, the book is interesting, introducing the differences between the native Tripolitans and the story of a white Jewish woman whose community left her alone due to her relations and later pregnancy with a black American man. The Tripolitans may still regard others as different, but there is more of an emphasis on similarity. In this way the different ways cultures mix and stay apart are explored.

The writing style is very literary; the wording is superb. Kudos must be given to the translator, Adriana Hunter, but it’s not hard to see where the original text is behind the English. The book is about culture and difference, and those must come first, but of great importance is the text itself. At times it’s so lovely that you may find yourself having to read over a passage again as you end up focusing on the words rather than the message.

Under The Tripoli Sky is simple and the issues are dealt with in a nice, obvious, way, thanks to Hameda’s use of a child. Indeed Hadachinou at times sounds older than his treatment may suggest, but that does not matter so much as what is said. It’s a short read, with a lot to say, and potentially plenty to use for the reader up for a bit of research.

I received this book for review from the publisher.

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Literary Feline

September 3, 2014, 4:12 pm

This sounds interesting–and insightful.

Tracy Terry

September 3, 2014, 4:59 pm

Sounds very familiar and yet I have no record of having read it.

Great review, I’ll be sure to keep a look out for this.



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