A Moroccan Noir

Street of Thieves, by Matias Énard, translated by Charlotte Mandel, (Open Letter), 350 pages, released November 11, 2014

Street of Thieves is an interesting novel—originally published in French and set in Morocco and Spain. Lakhdar, the central character, is a young man cast out by his family, managing in one way or another to keep himself alive on the fringes of society.

The arc of this novel is subtle. Yes, there’s a central action, but for the most part the reader wanders along with Lakhdar, settling in one temporary home after another. Lakhdar is a reader of French noires, a believing, but uneven Muslim, who prays, but also drinks beer and roams the local bars in Tangier with fantasies of picking up European tourists.

The action of this novel plays out against the background of the Arab Spring and Europe’s Occupy Movement. This is one of the novel’s real strengths, as it offer readers opportunities to view these events from multiple perspectives. Readers see parallels between the two movements; there are also parallels between the noir literature Lakhdar reads and his own situation.

I don’t want to say more about the plot. This is a book worth reading and worth coming to without too much prior knowledge. While Lakhdar initially seems aimless, readers ultimately come to understand the trajectory of Lakhdar’s life as they work their way through the book.

Street of Thieves is published by Open Letter, a literary translation press located at the University of Rochester. Open Letter describes itself as “search[ing] for works that are extraordinary and influential that… will become the classics of tomorrow. Making world literature available in English is crucial to opening our cultural borders, and its availability plays a role in maintaining a healthy and vibrant book culture.” Street of Thieves certainly contributes to these goals.

Note: I received an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.