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Shelf Awareness: "A witty story about Mohamed, a 40-year-old Muslim in France, who is trying to leave his mother and live the life he has only been able to dream of."

Date: May 21 2010

Mohamed used to be the perfect Muslim. He came from a conservative, fanatical small town in Algeria. He led the prayers and recited sermons. Now he's living in Paris and using skin-whitening cream. He's straightened his hair. He's turned his back on his Arabic past. He works at a bank, like a good capitalist. He's had his name Frenchified: he's now Basile Tocquard. Unfortunately, he's just turned 40 and he's still a virgin. That's Mohamed's problem. Instead of savoring all the sensual joys and pleasures of living in Paris, he has always lived at home with his mother and younger brother.

Until now. For 15 years, he's held positions of importance in banks of renown. He has savings. He is about to rent secretly his dream apartment in Paris. He doesn't care how expensive it is, he'll sign. He is going to attempt to liberate himself from a mother he loves with all his heart. This is no ordinary mother--this is a "she-wolf who eats her young alive," who forbids her son to go out even on Saturday night. But before he moves out, more than anything, Mohamed wants his mother's blessing. There's only one way to get it. Mohamed has to promise his mother he'll marry before Ramadan. That's only two months away.

Author Leila Marouane crosses the gender line effortlessly. Here's a character created by a woman, but entrenched in his male point of view. Mohamed Ben Mokhtar is a comic, complex, believable guy who doesn't know himself all that well because he's never dared to be himself; who's still tormented by profound guilt at not appreciating his uneducated father's sacrifices; who is frantically trying to get up the courage to tell his dominating mother he's moving out. Sexually immature, socially blundering, Mohamed has all the tact of a horny teenager, filled with enthusiasm and spinning his wheels in excited confusion. Marouane adds a delicious touch of satire to all of his sexist dreams of conquest--they ring completely honest and true for our thick-headed, inexperienced hero, but they're lightened by a distant sparkle of female laughter.

Rippling with crosscultural wit, warm-hearted with family love, the story zips along nicely, with a couple of recurring teases perpetually toying with the reader's mind: Who exactly is telling the story? And who is the narrator talking to?

By Nick DiMartino