Like many of the women in her working-class Casablanca neighborhood, Jmiaa struggles to earn enough money to support herself and her family—often including the deadbeat husband who walked out on her and their young daughter.
I am forever grateful, and particularly, most recently, for this first novel by the Moroccan-born writer Meryem Alaoui. The novel is a vivid, and vividly angry, first-person portrait of Jmiaa ... Jmiaa is biting, funny, oh so streetwise, and not a bit ashamed of her work. You can be ashamed for her, should you dare, but the more Jmiaa’s story unfolds, the more her spirit amazes, springing up off the page ... The novel is refreshingly a referendum on hypocrisy, and though Jmiaa may be a paradox, she is not a hypocrite, and when she is serendipitously in a situation of plenty, she enjoys herself into leglessness ... Other Press makes a beautiful book, with French flaps and pages that float with Moroccan Arabian mandalas, and majuscules in Arabic script that start certain passages. Presentation is a subject in Straight from the Horse’s Mouth. Which djellaba does Jmiaa wear today to stand at the entrance to the market place? What are the other women wearing, how is a hem lifted to entice, and when all the window dressing of this age-old transaction get shuttered, what naked realities emerge, and what beautiful spirit remains as though architecture, art? Here is a novel worth your reading time; here is a novel beautiful to hold.
The voice of North African novelist Meryem Alaoui is a welcome one ... a powerful character study ... follows a familiar rag-to-riches storyline, but Jmiaa’s unfaltering optimism will keep readers hooked. She is matter-of-fact about the day-to-day details of her profession, boasting of her ability to provide for her family and proudly defending the women who share the streets with her ... Alaoui is ably served by her translator, Emma Ramadan, who captures Jmiaa’s irreverent spirit and sass. A simple glossary at the end adds context to the shop names, local personalities and food that contribute to the richness of everyday details.
... lively ... This is a funny and profane book; joyful in its celebration of a life lived expansively and filled with the sights and sounds of Casablanca. It also introduces a confident female character comfortable with choices that may seem--to those more privileged--unsavory and unwise. Straight from the Horse's Mouth received critical acclaim when it was first published in France, and will be equally welcome in this ebullient English translation.