The author of Infidels returns with a novel of North Africans and refugees living in Paris during the summer of 2010: Zahira, a late-career Moroccan prostitute whose first love Allal pays her a visit; Aziz, a trans woman prostitute and friend of Zahira; and Motjaba, an Iranian revolutionary and gay man who finds refuge for a few days with Zahira.
... more about atmosphere than plot. It is a brief, taut work that digs deep into the margins of society to demonstrate the many ways in which colonialism pollutes our notions of love and self ... Their stories read like monologues, and talk toward each other more than they ever intersect ... great emotional effect ... Taïa masterfully conveys...characters’ frustrations by equating their work to a performance of sorts—a(n) (dis)illusion ... These crushing depictions serve an important political purpose in Taïa’s deft hands: they showcase how sexuality, too, can be colonized ... A Country for Dying during a period of widespread immigration, social distancing, and oppression of marginalized groups feels almost prescient. Its powerful lyricism, on the other hand—fully captured in Ramadan’s skillful translation—is positively timeless.
... out of a polyphonic onslaught, Taïa fashions a globe-trotting yet tenuous story. The author, who grew up in Morocco and lives in France, excels when contrasting the dreams of two of his three main characters, all of whom are North African prostitutes, with the grimness of demimonde Paris ... translated into appropriately gritty English by Ramadan ... Taïa’s third main character is Zineb ... Zineb’s tale...jars with the stories of Zahira and Aziz, owing to its brevity and altogether different time and place. Nevertheless, Taïa adroitly conveys the sobering message that, whether in the mid-20th century or in the early 21st, sexual stigma is often irremovable, and can even foreclose the possibility of a return home.
Impressionistic and digressive, A Country for Dying has no plot nor consistent perspective. The narrative moves through time and space in a manner that can be disorienting, one character’s story blending into the next—their fantasies, fixations, and traumas merging. There are points where these transitions feel jarring or overly tenuous, and in that way, this book is challenging. But the patient reader will be well rewarded—the book has no omniscient narrator to act as a guide, but neither does it contain any contrivance or false emotion. Its prose is forceful and direct—this, no doubt, is thanks to Emma Ramadan’s fluid, responsive, and economical translation—and it becomes clear, by the book’s conclusion, that the author’s vision is cohesive and elegant ... it feels true and correct that his narrative is fragmented and littered with jagged edges, and that his characters are at once violent and rageful, remorseful and dreamy.