The Story of ‘Ahmed and Aziz’ in a New French Novel, ‘The Orange Grove’

Through the description of the landscape and the context of an “enemy” invasion, suicide missions and a peace process, there are clear echoes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but elements of the Lebanese civil war and even the current Syrian crisis resonate here too. The country is deliberately unnamed, which emphasizes and prioritises the universality of the experience it portrays. The complex mindset of a family seeking to avenge death with more death is explained – though never justified – through recognizable cultural expressions and religious overtones. She manages to manipulate the wretched fate of her sons and family as she navigates her own role in the plot, faces a heart-wrenching dilemma, and ultimately pays the price for her decision. Characters often disappear into the distance at the end of a chapter as though being ushered off-stage as stage lights are dimmed. Especially when those who judged them lived far from the circumstances that had provoked the conflicts, whose origins were lost in the vortex of history.”
Reading The Orange Grove   with my journalist’s eye, I am tempted to pick fault with it: Is it only ostensibly seeming to humanise the barbaric tactics of the suicidal side? Another delightful feature of The Orange Grove   is the female role. Nashwa holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. But what sets this story apart is Tremblay’s efficient and pounding use of language. The Orange Grove   has been shortlisted for the Pan-European Euregio Prize 2017 and longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2017. And The Orange Grove   is no exception. The first two paragraphs read almost harmless as we are introduced to the twin protagonists – “If Ahmed cried, Aziz cried too. Their grandmother’s skull had been smashed in by a beam.” And so the story hurtles along with little time for sentimentality. She has translated numerous works of Arabic literature, including a co-translation with Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp of Samar Yazbek’s memoir, The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria. A poet, playwright, short story writer and novelist, Tremblay has penned over thirty books, with many of his characters often facing psychological trauma. Nashwa Gowanlock is a writer, journalist and literary translator. This is not a story about the Arab world told through a Western prism, but an intimate, understated tale of a family set against the backdrop of a war that has become all too familiar to the global readership. We are left helplessly musing on the harrowing events of each chapter as the story skips along its nightmarish way. Reading The Orange Grove   with my translator’s hat on, and through my own Arab lens, I spot many pleasing choices. The book’s denouement leads with unpleasant revelations that are relentless to the very end. There is plenty of moral dilemma to cause lifelong trauma to the surviving twin and his mother through the choice of twin to be sacrificed. Despite the depth and breadth of its subject, The Orange Grove   is so short and powerful that it reads almost like a screenplay, a likely influence of Tremblay’s experience as a theatre director and actor. The book balances on a precarious fence, or wall even, aptly included in Peirene’s “East and West: Looking Both Ways” series. If Aziz laughed, Ahmed laughed too.’ But the third paragraph takes a sharp and morbid turn with the cutting opening lines: “Ahmed and Aziz found their grandparents in the ruins of their house. Though the writer shuns sentimentality, the combination of a bleak story with such effective, evocative imagery, makes it difficult for the reader of this novella, no matter the political leanings, not to be moved, if not by empathy, then regret.   In the penultimate chapter, Tremblay delivers a statement through one characters’ soliloquy that seemingly underpins the author’s philosophy in writing ‘the other’:
“It was too easy to accuse those who committed war crimes of being assassins or wild beasts. Though this same critic could also note that the “enemy” point of view is absent. Mood setting is used to impressive effect and description of the landscape, the moon and the sky as seen from the orange grove or the roof, is vivid. Translated from the French by Sheila Fischman, the English text is flavoured with local expressions that have a recognisable ring without the need to stylise it with transliterated vocabulary. Nine-year-old twins, Ahmed and Aziz, live and play in the shelter of their family’s orange grove before being dealt a suicide mission that is to take the life of one and haunt the other. Advertisements

Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrPinterestPocketLike this:Like Loading…‹ Friday Finds: ‘Arabic Readers Are Devouring’ Books Translated from Chinese?Categories: review That’s not to say that there is anything petite about this story. The grandparents are buried in the beloved orange grove and the father coerced by an influential character into sacrificing one of his sons to avenge the blood of the many victims of the ongoing conflict. But the personal story here takes precedence and, through it, the political theme is revealed with an almost predictable conclusion of the futility of war, the overriding victims of which are inevitably children and future generations. Short, simple sentences shroud the text, focusing the reader’s attention on the action. Far from it, the issue The Orange Grove   tackles is the complex and age-old issue of ethnic conflict, though the topic is handled with much nuance and conspicuously absent political lexicon. Originally written in French by Canadian author Larry Tremblay, The Orange Grove   is a unique retelling of what is essentially a children-of-war story. Larry Tremblay’s   story of “children of war”   in an unnamed Arab country, The Orange Grove, (trans. Rather than a stereotypically weak, oppressed figure, the mother is cast as a strong, risk-taking character. Sheila Fischman) has clear echoes of Algerian Francophone author Mohammed Dib’s “The Savage Night.” Nasha Gowanlock reads Tremblay’s novella through her lenses as a lover of books, a journalist, an Arab, and a translator:
By Nashwa Gowanlock
Like all of Peirene’s novellas, this one is a small package that packs a punch.