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Novel set in Nice and Paris

22nd October 2021

Men Don’t Cry by Faïza Guène, novel set in Nice and Paris. Translated by Sarah Ardizzone.

This is a beautifully produced novel, from the cover that absolutely captures the feel of the book, to the French flaps that always lend a notion of quality.

We explore the home life of Mourad Chennoun, whose family – originally from Algeria – has settled in Nice. It is a story of co-existence, cultural traditions and the nature of immigration. The family narrative is that men don’t cry, even when tested.

Mounia, who is Mourad’s sister, has broken the mould and is exiled from the family, choosing to eschew the values held dear to her mother in particular. She follows a feminist political path that takes her to Paris, where Mourad eventually finds himself too, as he embarks on his first teaching job. His father has suffered a stroke and is hospitalised. It seems to fall to Mourad to find a way of healing the family, to negotiate the generational and cultural gap.

Mourad goes to live with a reprobate cousin and his older partner, in a life of considerable luxury and louche living (there is a butler!). He was warned that his cousin had gone off grid when it came to respecting traditions of his heritage. From there he commutes to his new school where there is further learning to be had about people and how they choose to live their lives. Mourad observes and engages with them as he gets to grips with his own raison d’être. The characters are really well drawn, with their idiosyncrasies and principles.

thesweetoccasion.com

This is a coming-of-age story told with warmth, perception and wonderfully quiet humour. And I never knew such a thing as a rhubarb brioche existed – which, as Mourad ponders, might one day just serve to become his Proustian madeleine.

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