I am [somewhere along the lines of] an American-born Korean-Indonesian with a Portuguese last name and a Canadian nationality. My life has been embraced lovingly with multi-language show of affection, and my life overflows with beloved friends and family who have equally been “globally cultured”. But I don’t think my interests default to cultures and international personalities as (surprisingly) many presume. I’m more interested in discovering identities and values. I place importance on who we are, how we are and why, mainly to understand the part of life we cannot see or comprehensively explain. And I do this best when traveling or reading. So naturally, Amara Lakhous’ second book Divorce Islamic Style provoked my curiosity once again.
The title doesn’t sufficiently represent the depth of the novel: a young Sicilian court translator, Christian, is hired by the Italian secret service to intervene with a group of Muslim immigrants in a Roman neighborhood because they received intel about a possible terrorist attack. Christian’s fluency in Arabic and dashing Mediterranean-chameleon looks make social acceptance by the neighbors perfunctory, or at least on the outside. The most interesting part of the novel is how Lakhous crafts with the chaos of identity and misidentity. Making racial assumptions or cultural stereotypes is in the DNA of a community, so collective alertness is deliberate. And the impressions that each character extrapolates from one another is so obvious yet unpredictable. Instead of being quick and nimble about the investigation, Christian (renamed Issa) engages in a complicated relationship with Sofia, an Egyptian immigrant who suffocates from boredom in her marriage with an architect-turned-pizza-cook. As the story progresses, the relationship and Sofia become more and more suspicious. And instead of intimidating her, Christian falls in love.
The book is not quite a thriller or mystery or suspense… but a combination of all of the above plus humor and psychological action. It’s definitely not a romance novel. The climax and ending is a bit of a surprise and I actually didn’t like the story too much, but the observations of identity is what brings the most personality to Divorce.
dee’s recommendation: 3.5/5