The Man Who Didn’t Want to be Buried
The cultural divide experienced by migrants
In De man die niet begraven wilde worden (The Man Who Didn’t Want to be Buried), Rachida Lamrabet once more astonishes her readers with an unusual, penetrating and nuanced examination of the lives of people who are culturally uprooted, in some cases inwardly torn. Her characters are affected in their deepest being and in their most heartfelt emotions by the circumstances of their lives.
Moncif tells his story from an uncomfortable position: hiding under a table in the mortuary. As he waits for the guard to leave the building, he explains why he is there. His wife left him because he had distanced himself from Muslim culture and now that his brother has died in a car accident he has descended into deep despair. To his parents’ dismay, Moncif’s Western sister-in-law wants his brother to be cremated, going against Muslim tradition. Because he believes he has chosen the wrong path and needs to make amends, he decides to remove his brother’s body from the mortuary at night and give it an appropriate burial.
Rachida Lamrabet’s story involves far more than a head-on confrontation between Western and Muslim culture. Its central concern is with identity and integrity. The parents insist that their children’s ‘apostasy’ only makes them more vulnerable; in view of the recent electoral success of right-wing extremism, they should not have any illusions. Moncif has his own ideas about adjustment to Western life, but nevertheless he reaches an irritable compromise between willingness to please, pride and resistance. Many of the characters’ personal choices elicit social and generational conflicts that deeply disturb traditional family life.
Even in marriage and the experience of sexuality, misunderstandings have tragic consequences. ‘You can try to mix with the Flemings and live the way they do, but you’ll never succeed in being one of them,’ Moncif’s father insists.