By Mohamed Lahmidi
By Mohamed Lahmidi
Morocco World News
Rabat, August 16, 2012
The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences. – Edward Said, Orientalism (1978, 1) –
Azzeddine Choukri mainly endeavors to address in his novel entitled “Hug on Brooklyn’s Bridge” the crisis of misunderstanding that continuously cages and incarcerates two poles within the logic of Crusades. The novel under discussion should be read against the backcloth of East/West dichotomy.
This conflict, which seems to be the most suggestive feature, has constantly colored the historical and cultural relations between an Eastern civilization still caught within the vortex of backwardness and a Western civilization already qualified as the beacon of the most civilized hemisphere of the whole globe.
As a matter of fact, this ambiguous and conflictual Manichean relation has already been tackled by many remarkable literary Arab masterpieces such as “A Sparrow from the East” by Taoufik Al Hakim, “Um Hashim’s Lamp” by Yahya Hakki, “The Latin Neighborhood” by Souhail Idriss and “The Season of Immigration to the North” by Tayyeb Saleh. Azzeddine Choukri’s novel largely sheds light on Eastern immigrants/aliens living in the West, especially after the events of 9/11. From this perspective, this polyphonic narrative limpidly appears to give freedom to all voices throughout the novel to express their concerns/dilemmas/frustrations, their existential/ontological impasses.
With respect to the stereotypes that the alienated immigrants face on the daily basis in the host countries constitutes the backbone of this constant misunderstanding, so to speak. In doing so, this novelist in his chef-d’oeuvre scathingly castigates the American dream and the capitalist paradigm since they drastically fail to live up to the expectations of the American citizen coming from the East and continue to subjugate human subjects at large.
As to the specificity of the novel, it is a purely Post-modern text simply because it is open to multiple interpretations and readings; on top of that, it is marked by the multiplicity of characters/voices in terms of the Bakhtinian paradigm. The novel’s characters yearn for some sort of meeting the “Other”, but they hopelessly and disappointingly continue to go astray without being able to figure out the real sense of this Being. Taken in this spirit, it is important to highlight that Azzeddine Choukry’s heroes/heroines; without exception, are in a great existential/ontological dilemma.
The primordial line of thought/inquiry of the novelist truly lies in interrogating the crisis of humanity/civilization as a whole. It is so useful at this stage to argue that readers are in contact with fragmented identities. Putting it most simply, no character seems to be satisfied with his/her present which implies that we are before a real human and philosophical impasse/tragedy. The idea of East and West coming together as embodied in the novel does not necessarily lead to some sort of real interplay/interaction between the two entities/identities despite being colored with a great deal of reciprocal admiration and warmth.
Given this focus, a case of a failure that we come across the narrative is Dr.Darwich, who is totally fascinated by the American/Western model and who arrogantly keeps undermining his Arab culture as being backward, does not even succeed in his love relationship with Jane from England. The upshot of this fiasco presupposes in this context Rudyard Kippling’s famous expression “East is East, West is West and they will never meet”. Dr.Darwich, who is a university professor in the US, proves to be unable to reach perfection despite the fact that he embraces the American/Western values.
Professionally speaking, his dream of success seems to have come true, but when it comes to the warmth of human dimension, our hero unfortunately does not win the bet. Dr.Darwich ends up being alone, alienated, and isolated which is a suggestive innuendo that being a successful academician is not really enough to enjoy the status of a fully integrated/adapted cultural identity. With Dr.Darwich’s case, it is more a matter of conceiving the depth of human alienation and philosophical/civilizational malaise. By the same token, the novelist symbolically does mention that the curtains do not let the light into the room in a very suggestive and significant allusion that there is a massive barrier/curtain that always keeps the two worlds apart.
Another illustrative example of failure takes us into the world of Rami, the ex-student of Dr.Darwich. The latter seems to be caught in the cage/trap of deep psychological and social isolation and despondency because of that abysmal cultural gap standing between his Egyptian culture and the American one. He is taken aback by the American totem that is purely evil due to the materialist approach to life as embodied in his wife’s and his daughters’ reaction/attitude vis-à-vis his longing for anything that is part of his cherished culture such as communication and warmth between the family members.
In their eyes’, he is a renegade because he seems to miss his roots and origins. This shows that Eastern immigrants are not welcome no matter how hard they try to become American citizens. It is simply a way of picking up the elements of failure with regard to the questions of immigration and integration within the American society. This line of argument makes us stress that the promising horizons of mutual tolerance and coexistence between the cultural components of East and those of West will never come together. As a matter of fact, we are before a “New Orientalist mind-set” in the Saidian discursive sense of the term if the expression may be allowed which attempts to reconstruct new images of the East in the aftermath of post- 9/11 lethal earthquake. Who is to blame? Is it the Eastern immigrant who is unwilling to give up his/her cultural background or the Western culture which proves pretty short on accepting the “Other” and his/her idiosyncrasies?
In the case of Loqman and his Dutch girlfriend Marick, the reader feels that this love relationship, as a symbolic meeting between East and West, would save them both from the claws of eternal antagonism. Unfortunately this wonderful mutual understanding between the two lovers/worlds will break down on the altar of the impossibility of such kind of love relation. What the writer tries to communicate through this unfulfilled relationship is the fact that no matter how strong the bond of love is, the psychological, historical and cultural walls that separate the two worlds seem to be the point of reference when it comes to this eternal unfulfilled contact.
It is true that Marick is actually taken by the East and she sympathizes with the Easterners, but what needs to be said with regard to this sympathizing feeling is that it is a continuous fanciful and imaginative view vis-à-vis the East as the ghost of Orientalist discourse turns out to dominate the scene.
To sum up, it is quite important to note that throughout the above-mentioned novel the reader is completely absorbed in the world of its characters hopelessly surrounded by profound human questions. These characters are deeply torn between their past and present in addition to their inability to visualize their future. Ultimately, this novel succeeds in turning the story of some people with different hopes and dreams into an allegory of a deep rift/schism splitting two entities most widely known East and West. In the end of the novel, it is up to readers to try their hardest to envision some sort of a happy scenario full of sincere human warmth capable of rendering the encounter between the East and West a highly possible successful story.
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