Men are like dogs, they rub against each other in misery, they roll around in filth and can’t get out of it, lick their fur and their genitals all day long, lying in the dust, ready to do anything for the scrap of meat or the rotten bone they want someone to throw at them, and I’m just like them, I’m a human being, hence a depraved piece of garbage that’s a slave to it’s instincts, a dog , a dog that bites when it’s afraid and begs for caresses.
I was looking forward to this, and it did not disappoint. Enard, is currently my favourite author, although I believe I have now read all of his books in English, so not sure where I go from here.
We start in Tangier, Lakhdar is caught with his cousin Meryem and leaves the family home. He returns to Tangier and meets up with his friend Bassam, and they dream about a better life elsewhere, while the Arab Spring takes flight around them. Lakhdar meets Judit, a student from Barcelona and strikes up a tentative romance with her, as Bassam becomes more aloof and withdrawn into his religion, Lakhdar works for a better life. He gets the chance to work on a ferry plying between Tangier and Algeciras until it is impounded due to lack of funds. He makes it into Spain and eventually to Barcelona, homing in on Judit like a port in a storm. He settles down in the downtrodden Raval district and it is while he is here that Bassam reappears, quiet, pensive and seemingly waiting for something.
As with Compass and Zone, I disappeared into the Street of Thieves. Enard captures the eruption of the Arab spring in north Africa while Europe stands on the opposite shore and watches curiously, and he does this while ostensibly writing about two young boys who are dreaming of a better life, in a place that doesn’t want them. The boys separation after Lakhdar is kicked out of his home is perhaps the catalyst for Bassam to disappear into his religion, but perhaps it was there all along. While alluding to it throughout the book it is never clear exactly what Bassam is up to with Sheikh Nureddin, yet it is perhaps telling that I thought I knew exactly what he was doing and thought Lakhdar was incredibly naive about his friend. Yet I can imagine it is a situation that is difficult to navigate out of when you’re in his position, and the more his doubts grow, the more he wants to give his friend the benefit of the doubt.
Meanwhile Judit is full of revolutionary zeal in Spain, before she falls ill, and taking a step back it’s almost as if Enard is painting the end of days, and perhaps it is, given the hatred and division that is swirling up in the world. Yet Street of Thieves is never bleak, at least it did not seem so to me, Lakhdar, while never fully accepting the fate of the current that sweeps him along, always sets to and tries to make something of the situation he is landed in.
Having been to Tangier, briefly, travelling on a ferry from Algeciras, and stayed in the Raval quarter in Barcelona, a somewhat cleaned up quarter than the time of the book, and even read one of the french detective novels that Lakhdar reads, I had a completely different experience to him, which resonated around my head as I read and made me think more about Street of Thieves than I would of done normally.
So thank you Mathias Enard, and for the excellent translation by Charlotte Mandell. I must now patiently wait for a new novel from my new favourite author.
Men are like dogs, with empty gazes, they circle in the twilight, chase a ball, fight over a female, over a corner of the kennel, stay stretched out for hours, tongues lolling, waiting to be done in, in a final caress – why, in one instant, does one make a decision, why today, why now, maybe he’s the one who decided and not me, Bassam seemed to be looking at me, seated, back straight, in the living room; light from the street projected his shadow on Mounir’s closed door,