Magazine article World Literature Today

Tunisian Yankee

Magazine article World Literature Today

Tunisian Yankee

Article excerpt

Cécile Oumhani. Tunisian Yankee. Tunis. Elyzad. 2016. 283 pages.

Daoud Kaci / Dawood Casey is a person displaced by his thirst for independence and the rigors of French colonial rule. From Tunis to Palermo, New York, and the 1918 battlefields of France, however, Daoud never loses his poet's eye and his noble heart. This early-twentieth-century Werther meets three key people: Russian adventurer and cartographer Berensky, who gives him his first balloon ride and his New York address; circus trapeze artist Nora, whose love lures him to Palermo; and Elena, an Italian immigrant to the United States. Woven among these pleasant awakening moments are the nadirs of repeated discrimination against him on grounds of his Arab identity, the arrest of his close friends, his father's hostility toward him and financial ruin, and his baptism by fire as a US soldier at the Battle of Château-Thierry in July 1918.

The novel's primary plot covers barely a few weeks. This unified time/space is narrated in one-page dramatic vignettes. Like a rhizome, the plot sprouts longer secondary stories focusing on the four women in Daoud's life: his mother, the proud Zoulikha, from whom he inherited his independent streak; his nanny, the faithful Mouldia, sold as a child on the slave market, who mothered him and taught him loyalty; his first love, the Arab-Italian trapeze artist Nora, with whom he shared self-respect; and his wife, Sicilian-born widow Elena, whose dignity and independence he instantly recognized. …

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