17 February 2016

Azouz Begag: Béni ou le paradis privé (1989)

Azouz Begag's Béni ou le paradis privé (lit. 'Béni or the Private Paradise') is about not fitting in, being alien, but trying not to be, trying to assimilate into a country you've nevertheless been born in. But that's too harsh a summing up, too exaggerated a slant on a novel which is full of life and the excitement of it, in fact a very amusing book in spite of itself, in spite of the life it represents.
 
Ben Abdallah lives in Lyon, was born there, but prefers to call himself Béni as it sounds more French, it disguises his Algerian ancestry. His birth name is like a cloak, or djellaba, of (foreign) identity.
 
 But in many respects Béni is more French than the, er, French French. His racist English teacher, for instance, asks his post-BEPC (for which read GCSE) class what form the conjunction 'aussi' takes when it's at the head of a phrase. The French French kids have no idea, although Béni comes up with a very good answer:
 
'Monsieur, on emploie la forme interrogative, c'est-à-dire, par exemple: je lis beaucoup à la maison, aussi suis-je capable à répondre aisément à votre question.'
 
My translation: 'Sir, the interrogative form is used, as in for example: "I read a lot at home, so I can easily answer your question."' This is actually quite a clever answer, as it also registers a meaning change of 'aussi' from the usual 'also' or 'as well' to 'so' or 'as a result', etc. The teacher gives his reaction to this: 'And if this isn't the limit when the only foreigner in the class is the only one who can boast that he knows our language.' 'Foreigner', 'Our language': mindless expressions of exclusion.
 
Béni calls himself Béni to avoid this kind of exclusion, although he sometimes opens himself to ridicule by presenting himself as a kind of Michael Jackson, someone from another culture pretending to be what he is not. But Béni (because of his age) can't even be fully included into the society of his false (Arab) friends by being admitted in to seeing a porn film, and most important of all is rejected from the private Paradis club to which the title alludes, a club where he has expected to meet France, the symbolically-titled young girl he loves so much. This is a book which makes an important point.

My other post on Azouz Begag:

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Azouz Begag: Le Gone du Chaâba | Shantytown Kid

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