by Mohamed Choukri

When this autobiographical work opens, the 20-year-old narrator is desperate to leave his knockabout life in Tangier and attend school. Although the thread of his search for an education runs throughout the book, that subject is overshadowed by tales of getting drunk, sex with prostitutes–a grim recounting that is saved from tawdriness by the narrator’s cool, distanced voice. The chapters are more like a series of biographical sketches than parts of a whole: one describes Qasem, a man driven mad by his close relationship with his mother; another shows prostitute trying to support her mother and child. The translation is occasionally too slangy; still, Choukri’s strange divided existence–half as an overage student, half as a devotee of bars and brothels–makes for compelling reading. Sections on the narrator’s deteriorating relationship with his family are particularly moving. Only when his mother dies, does he discover that his father has been dead for months. No one, it turns out, informed him, “`Because we knew that you never got on with him.'”