Tariq is 19 when he finds his Moroccan home too small, too far away from the real world. Paris is the place he wants to be, not just because of the dreams of the city of lights he has, but also to follow his deceased mother’s traces who was born and raised there. On his way, he meets a young girl and together they arrive in the French capital without any place to stay or any idea of how to earn money. Hannah, an American researcher twice their age, accommodates them; what was meant as an arrangement just for a couple of days becomes a cohabitation for months in which Tariq not only discovers that he is not only ignorant of Europe’s history, but also of the struggles between France and its former colonies in northern Africa. But also Hannah not only makes progress in her work on women in the second World War, but also in her personal love life.
I was eager to read Sebastian Fault’s novel because seeing the French history through the eyes of a Moroccan teenager seemed to be quite an interesting perspective. The author certainly has chosen quite a unique approach to history, since it is mainly strangers who do not actually have a family bond or personal connection to what has happened and thus, can look at things a bit more freely.
What I liked best was actually Tariq’s education through the metro, especially since he didn’t learn because he was told to, but because he felt a need and wanted to. This informal kind of education lead to a lot more depth than any formal teaching could ever have provided. And it clearly showed that this kind of knowledge has a certain relevance in everyday life and it not just dusty knowledge of no practical use.
Even though the whole set-up of the novel was not really authentic – which middle-aged American woman would ever house a refugee in her expensive Parisian flat and how could a Moroccan teenager move around Paris without ever being eyed closely by the police or the people around him – I enjoyed reading it, especially since the narration of the past events was much more inspiring than the plot set in the present.