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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Montecore

by
Jonas Hassen Khemiri


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Montecore



Title: Montecore
Author: Jonas Hassen Khemiri
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 311 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Montecore - US
Montecore - UK
Montecore - Canada
Montecore - India
Montecore, un tigre unique - France
Montecore, ein Tiger auf zwei Beinen - Deutschland
  • The Silence of the Tiger
  • Swedish title: Montecore
  • Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

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Our Assessment:

B : conventional foreigner-abroad/father-son story, but livened up by lively voice and language-play

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Aftonbladet . 6/2/2006 Jenny Tunedal
The National . 18/2/2011 Matthew Jakubowski
The NY Times Book Rev. . 27/2/2011 Ander Monson
Svenska Dagbladet . 6/2/2006 Magnus Eriksson


  From the Reviews:
  • "Montecore är en väldigt lättläst bok. Man slukar den. (...) Det finns inte en död minut, berättarglädjen står högt i tak. Bitvis hotar allt det briljanta och förtjusande nästan att skymma romanens nattsvarta botten, den stora sorg som för mig är romanens hjärta." - Jenny Tunedal, Aftonbladet

  • "(T)he book's success hinges almost entirely on the voice of a supporting character named Kadir, whose enthusiasm and mockery prevent things from falling into melodrama. (...) In the end, however, we can see that Khemiri's wordplay and deliberately odd narrative, even in English translation, clearly offers a serious commentary on Swedish society. And it is to his credit that he is able to turn so many painful elements into an enlightening portrait of immigrant life near Stockholm and a deeply compassionate portrait of his father." - Matthew Jakubowski, The National

  • "Khemiri offers familiar if not simple emotional territory, a story about a son and his estranged father -- complicated by questions of culture and language, racism and violence, metafiction and postmodernity, formal conceit and constraint. (...) The novel is at its most exciting on the level of linguistic performance. A constantly changing creole, its voice shifts registers and references, revealing the substantial emotional gaps that open up in characters and cultures when they’re remixed in this way. It’s a wondrous if occasionally baffling display, assisted by the English translator, Rachel Willson-Broyles, who has somehow kept all of this from devolving into chaos. If both novelist and translator are performing on the high wire, things sometimes seem to fall out of balance." - Ander Monson, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Det formella arrangemanget med mejlen och konflikten mellan Kadirs minnen, både hans egna och de som Jonas far planterat hos honom, och Jonas upplevelse av sin barndom understryker på sedvanligt modernistiskt manér osäkerheten i våra minnen och vår varseblivning, i allt det som på olika sätt formar vår individualitet och identitet. Men frågan är om inte romanen innehåller alltför många ironiska filter, alltför många garderingar. (...) Romanens centrala frågor om identitet, individualitet och kulturell tillhörighet riskerar också att fastna i alla de ironiska filtren." - Magnus Eriksson, Svenska Dagbladet

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Montecore is the second novel by an author born in Sweden to a Tunisian father and Swedish mother, Jonas Hassen Khemiri -- and features an author with the same background named Jonas Hassen Khemiri writing an autobiographical second novel .....
       At least Khemiri doesn't offer a ponderous first-person narrative; instead, much of the novel consists of the letters, commentary, and stories of a close friend of Abbas, the father-figure, and the novel is as much about the father as the son. The friend's name is Kadir, and in his communications with the author he tries to influence the shaping of the story and the book itself, suggesting how Khemiri should describe events and even what he should remember about his father. Khemiri's relationship with his father is clearly somewhat strained, preventing him from writing about him directly, or employing the first person when writing from his own perspective (as opposed to through Kadir's eyes); indeed, the other voice in the narrative questions itself -- e.g.: "Here you're once again a little unsure about what Kadir means" -- rather than fully taking the narrative reins, and the father-figure remains a kept-at-some-distance 'Dads'.
       Kadir is the main source of much of the information about Abbas' life, especially before he moved to Sweden, and before Jonas' birth. Abbas' dream is to become a photographer (while Kadir wants to become a hotelier). Abbas fell in love with a visiting Swedish woman, Pernilla, and eventually followed her to Sweden -- bankrolled by Kadir, who then spends many years trying to collect the money he loaned Abbas (a source of some tension between them, as Abbas continually reassures Kadir he will eventually be able to repay him).
       Abbas tries to follow his dream, but the path is a rocky one in Sweden. He and Pernilla marry, and even as he works as a dishwasher and eventually as a subway-train driver he continues to aspire to devoting himself entirely to photography. Eventually he is able to open a photography studio, but even here, success is very slow in coming -- and only comes when he compromises his photographic ideals. (The reader has been told from the beginning that Abbas is a world-famous photographer, so his eventual success is taken for granted; the road to it, however, proves harder than imagined.)
       Jonas' own memories also play a significant role in the narrative, describing the ups and downs of family life and Abbas' pursuit of his dreams. When Jonas is young father and son are a 'Dynamic Duo', but eventually their relationship becomes more strained. One particular source of tension is Jonas' unwillingness to completely embrace Swedishness in the way that Abbas has, with Abbas complaining to Kadir:

He persists in spending time with the children of other immigrants. His body plays basketball and refuses my offers of tennis. His ears listen to the hip-hop of nigger music and he dirties his Swedish language with the embarrassments of slang.
       Defining events of the times include the assassination of Olof Palme and the rise of anti-immigrant violence and the turn rightwards in Sweden, culminating in the trashing of Abbas' studio (with Abbas refusing to believe that he could have been targeted because he was not Swedish enough), and questions of identity and Swedish (in)tolerance play a significant role in the latter part of the novel.
       If Montecore is an almost conventional story of essentially finding one's father (and oneself, in the process), it nevertheless stands out for its creative use of language. Language itself is significant in the novel, with one of Abbas' difficulties being his inability to become fluent in Swedish. Similarly, Jonas has difficulty pronouncing certain sounds as a child. Yet Jonas seems at his happiest in early childhood, when:
normal parents either speak Swedish or Not Swedish, but only Dads have their own language, only Dads speak Khemirish. A language that is all languages combined, a language that is extra everything with changes in meaning and strangewords put together, special rules and daily exceptions.
       Kadir does not speak this specific Khemirish, but his creative approach to language is similar, and that is presumably why Jonas presents Kadir's words in this form (rather than polishing them in any way -- though Kadir has his own reservations about how Jonas presents him and his words).
       Kadir's first letter to Jonas already gives a good idea of how this works, opening:
     Divinate who is writing you these phrases ? It is KADIR who is snapping the keys !!!! Your father's most antique friend ! You memorize me, right ?
       This use of verbal shifts -- the words Kadir is looking for can easily be guessed, after all -- is an effective technique, and makes for amusing reading. Rachel Willson-Broyles capably transfers this into English in her translation, and much of the fun of the book is in this wordplay; surprisingly, it rarely gets tiresome -- and, indeed, where the narrative bogs down is in sulky Jonas' adolescent reminiscences.
       Khemiri doesn't free himself enough from autobiographical-novel conventions, unable to hand the book over entirely to Kadir. What results is a decent father-son (and growing-up-in-Sweden) tale, but one that too readily retreats from its bright, creative flourishes into the boring safety of traditional fiction.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 March 2011

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Links:

Montecore: Reviews: Jonas Hassen Khemiri: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Jonas Hassen Khemiri was born in 1978.

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© 2011 the complete review

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