Book Review: About a Lover from Tunisia

Ouafa and Thawra: About a Lover From Tunisia, by Arturo Desimone, tells the story of a five year love affair between the part-Jewish narrator and a beautiful Arab woman. They lived in an apartment by a mosque, the calls to prayer marking their days and bookending their love-making. Structured as a poetry collection interspersed with line drawings there is an element of myth to what is the tale of a modern relationship.

The edition sent to me for review was bilingual – original Spanish alongside English translation (by Lucas Brockenshire). The prologue was not translated. The English edition linked to above includes an essay by the author that, as the publisher explains, adds context. Interesting though this would be to read, I was fully able to enjoy each of the poems standalone.

The collection opens with a poem in homage to a girl once loved. The narrator muses on her beauty, how much he enjoyed her naked body and the dark raven curls of her hair. In leaving her country he lost her. There is regret but also acceptance – pleasure in the memory.

The setting – Tunisia – is evocatively portrayed. Mentioned are: the minarets, latticework, encroachment of modern accoutrements, suspicion of locals towards camera wielding tourists. Referenced are virulent opinions separating Europeans and Arabs. The woman, though, is regarded by her lover as an equal.

“That din, that din I was forced to hear
for five years –
But the only inequality between us
was in height: when we stood I had to bend
over her
like beaten up crescent from a molten minaret
to thank her for translation.”

Their are musings on their differing heritages – on forbidden love and forbidden desire, religions attempting to police behaviour. The narrator is aware that women are neither powerless nor incapable.

“All those secret cops,
work for the great Stellar pimp”

“she barely needs me,
to drown her enemies.
She doesn’t depend
only on me,
to tighten the pink scarf
of her enemy –
but it’s the gesture that resonates.”

Although this is a modern love affair, the writing has tones of earth and fire. There is history, myth and tradition that predate the origins of current conflicts. There is so much beauty to be savoured in people and place whatever their daily trials.

When the man leaves Tunisia he takes with him regrets that linger.

“I want to speak to you again,
and that our voices are not dead in each other’s souls.”

She, however, has drawn a line under their affair.

“my Arab girl
across the ocean in Tunisia,
no longer thinks of me,
no longer waiting,
no longer”

The gorgeous imagery of the text is enhanced by the line drawings which offer much to unpack and are well worth making time for.

The language employed is reminiscent of a more ancient appreciation. The woman is depicted as more than beautiful – as powerful and independent. Unexpected juxtapositions add force and flavour to poems expressing love for a person and place.

That both parties have moved on reminds the reader that passion may be enjoyed and fondly remembered without it overriding what comes next.

A paean to a relationship that transcended the petty rules of religion and nationalism. Poems to savour for the many pleasures shared that are still valued though their time has now passed.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.

One comment on “Book Review: About a Lover from Tunisia

  1. Here a link to the order page for the UK edition of the book Ouafa and Thawra on the website of the distributor African Books Collective!
    https://www.africanbookscollective.com/books/ouafa-and-thawra-about-a-lover-from-tunisia

    Also available in most online bookstores, and in the Tell it Slant bookshop in Glasgow.
    (My publisher would want me to add this info, sorry to blemish your fine blog with marketing!)

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