Making us laugh while it makes us think – The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, the English debut from award-winning Moroccan author Fouad Laroui
This Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, the long-awaited English-language debut from Morocco’s most prominent contemporary writer, Fouad Laroui.
In its original French, The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers won the Prix Gouncourt de Nouvelles, France’s most prestigious literary award, for best short story collection.
In the introduction to the English edition, award-winning Moroccan-American novelist and essayist Laila Lalami says: “Laroui’s prose moves fluidly between languages, between high and low culture, between affecting personal commentary and sharp cultural associations. This constant code-switching is no doubt a testament to a life lived between cultures, and made all the richer for it.
“The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers is a comic book, occasionally even a farce. [...] But beneath the humour is Laroui’s constant concern with power and displacement. His prose is delightfully energetic, filled with double entendres, and he is not afraid to experiment with syntactic structures, as he does in the story ‘Dislocation’.
“In its exploration of culture, identity and religious dogma, Dassoukine consistently makes us laugh while it makes us think. Laroui turns his appraising gaze on the foibles and foolishness of his characters – with irreverence, but never without tenderness.”
Laroui has published over 20 novels and collections of short stories, poetry, and essays, and teaches econometrics and environmental science at the University of Amsterdam. He lives between Amsterdam, Paris, and Casablanca.
Read an excerpt from The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, courtesy of Words Without Borders:
“Belgium really is the birthplace of Surrealism,” sighs Dassoukine, staring into the distance.
I don’t respond because this phrase seems like a prologue – and in the face of a prologue, what can you do but await what follows, resigned. My commensal examines his mug of beer suspiciously, even though we are, after all, in the country that saw the birth of this pretty blonde, sometimes brunette, child—in an abbey, I’m told. The server eyes us. In this superb spot situated on the Grand-Place of Brussels, opposite the Maison du Cygne, we form a trio hanging on this thesis: “Belgium really is the birthplace of Surrealism.” This incipit is still floating in the air when Dassoukine decides to elaborate.
“What just happened to me, in any case, exceeds all bounds.”
I restrain myself from adding: “And when boundaries are crossed …”
“So, I set out yesterday from Morocco on a very delicate mission. You know the grain harvest is off to a bad start in our country: it has rained, but not a lot. We are in desperate need of flour, but where to find it? Ukraine is in flames, the Russians cling tightly to their crops, it’s a long way to Australia. There’s only one solution: Europe. The government sends me to buy flour from Brussels. They’ve entrusted this mission to me. The country’s future is at risk. At the airport, in Rabat, they’re all on the tarmac, the ministers standing straight as yews, to bid me bon voyage as if their fate depended on little old me. Well, little … I’m taller than all of them by a head. The prime minister shakes my hand while the airplane engines roar and my eyes blur:
“‘—Get the best price, my boy, the best price! The budget of the state depends on your negotiating skills.’
“He nearly pulled my ear, as if to say, ‘the homeland is counting on you, grenadier.’ I board the plane and set sail for the haystacks. On the Place Jourdan in Brussels, I get a room in the hotel where high-flying diplomats normally stay. Check-in, shower, quick glance at the TV – the world still exists – I’ll spare you the details. I go down to have a drink at the bar. Surprise! While I’ve come to the land of Tintin to buy wheat, suddenly I find myself on the first floor at a soirée whose theme is – adjusting our glasses and leaning in to look at the placard – ‘the promotion of Alsatian wine and cuisine.’ Curious. I had thought the gastronomy on the borders of the Rhine could stand up for itself – didn’t the Maginot Line used to be there? But anyway … I mingle among the guests. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and no one seems to notice this tall freeloading foreigner who tomorrow will be buying twenty million pounds of wheat. No one … except for two gentlemen.”
“Yes, one plus one.”
“You pronounce the ‘t’ when you say it?”
Dassoukine looks at me, dumbstruck.
“I’m telling you about the fiasco of the century and the only thing you’re worried about is whether you say ‘two gentlemen’ or ‘two gennelmen’?”
» read article