Lyric Reviews MUSLIM: A NOVEL

Zahia Rahmani's "Muslim: A Novel" is at its core a warning of the danger and violence of distilling human life down to a single identity label: religion, gender, or nationality. It also warns against the violence of erasing any part of one's life that encompasses those identities and cultures: the colonized who are forced to stop speaking their language, or oppressed groups who are forced to assimilate into the dominant culture while their own cultural practices are demonized and marginalized. This is the tension of the novel, pulling between multivalent life and erasure. The narrator lets no one off, not even herself. 


The first three chapters describe how the narrator's life was shaped by loss and shifting borders, but also by social ties and community, even when those supports were threatened by war and discrimination. Tales from childhood and the Quran take on added significance as the narrator describes her father returning from prison with PTSD, leaving wartorn Algeria for France, and struggling to reconcile Berber culture with French bureaucracy. The narrator frequently repeats: "I do not have a country."


"Muslim: A Novel" is a study in the function of language as a tool of colonization, of violence, of criminalization, and of murder. The narrator presents the various meanings of the Name, "Muslim," how it is always given by the ones who conquer. This forced identification sometimes flies under the radar, as in "Dialogue With a Government Worker," which underlines the intrusiveness of a state that is suspicious of foreignness. At other times it is overt, as in "Desert Storm," where the narrator is imprisoned by the army occupying a desert country. In this last chapter, the narrator recognizes the inherent resistance to conquest of the land and its people, and her last dialogue occurs between her and a soldier. It is dialogue frustrated by truth: the narrator's answers get at the rotten heart of the tension of the novel, and are both what the occupiers want to hear and precisely not what they want to hear. All the while, the humanness of the narrator throws wrenches in the cogs of the occupation machine.


The style of the novel is conversational, at the same time as circling. The novel is poetically written, almost stream of consciousness. While the subject matter is not easy, the novel is absolutely essential reading for everyone. It is a beautiful translation of a powerful work from an intelligent writer.

By Zahia Rahmani, Matt Reeck (Translator)
ISBN: 9781941920756
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Deep Vellum Publishing - March 19th, 2019

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