His most assured literary achievement to date
Hafid Bouazza’s Paravion is like an Arab fairy tale in its composition, poetic and exotic, but its theme is rooted in the current social reality of the emigrant. ‘Baba Balook and his wife had kept his upcoming journey secret from everyone, lest backbiting and catastrophe – the evil eye – should befall them but it was to no avail.’
In lithe, restless language the writer describes a village in the valley of Abqar, where the women stay behind with their children when their men leave for faraway Paravion. This name is a mistake, the villagers who have stayed at home taking the par avion on the airmail envelopes to be the name of Amsterdam. Even Baba Balook cannot resist his father’s call, leaving behind his pregnant wife Mamurra. ‘Industrious and productive times awaited him in Paravion. When he came back he would clothe and bejewel his wife. She would blossom and glow with gold like a lemon tree.’
Baba Balook jr., born nine months later, grows up in a community of women, with all the erotic pleasures of the situation. ‘He was crushed, squeezed, reshaped, studied, a doll without a will of its own in their inquisitive hands, among their merciless nails.’
Paravion is a book of understated wit, in which women can suddenly wear ‘the sparrow wings of youth’ again and men can hazard the great crossing on flying carpets. Bouazza enjoys playing with the concepts of origin and destination, both the old home and the new undergoing permanent transformation as a result of exodus and arrival.
He shows alienation, the inevitable consequence of emigration, in a surprisingly wistful light: ‘It was the melancholy of an existence in a world which had come into being without them and in which their presence had lost its necessity. Or to put it another way: here life moved along in a way over which they had no control.’
The writer avoids pathos and gravity in sketching the split personality of the emigrant who cherishes the memory of the wife he has left behind. ‘I wither and shrivel; she stays forever young. ‘He enjoys himself in the new country of litter bins at every street corner, while realizing that he has no part in its history. ‘That couldn’t be good.’