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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

L.A. Trip

Mohammed Dib

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To purchase L.A. Trip

Title: L.A. Trip
Author: Mohammed Dib
Genre: Novel
Written: (2003)
Length: 264 pages
Original in: French
Availability: L.A. Trip - US
L.A. Trip - UK
L.A. Trip - Canada
L.A. Trip - France
  • A Novel in Verse
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Paul Vangelisti
  • The Green Integer edition is a bilingual edition, offering both the French original and the English translation

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Our Assessment:

B : a free, loose narrative, with some nice detail

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       L.A. Trip is a sequence of 103 poems forming a novel, meant to be presented in a bilingual edition (originally written in French -- save the last poem, which Dib wrote in English --, translator Vangelisti worked closely with Dib on the English version). Dib visited Los Angeles in 1974, but only undertook this project a quarter of a century later -- and much of the book has that feel of distant (but still vibrant) memory.
       In Dib's introduction he explains that L.A. Trip: "tells of an Old World man's tribulations in the New World". Though he calls it A Novel in Verse, L.A. Trip is far from a straightforward narrative. Not very reassuringly Dib explains why he made it a novel:

to give body toa poetry come out of our ectoplasmic days, languishing, exhausted by a breathless impressionism. The novel's realism is the best antidepressant in this case.
       There is a progression in the novel. It begins with the central figure already in Los Angeles, and is an exploration of presence, self, and the city. It moves, ultimately, towards departure and absence, becoming a long good-bye.
       The central figure is a foreigner, a stranger in a strange land. What he observes and encounters is treated from a certain distance, and much remains the Invisible City.
       There are recurring sites, figures, and themes (with Dib nicely introducing them in one verse and then expanding or returning to them later). Among the many are: a wolf, a black boy, Mt. Washington, and finally, centrally, Jessamyn:
Laughter or drunkenness, Jessa
there's no other cure
or more disease than you
I have already gotten.
       The poems vary: some offer almost dispassionate observation, no "I" or "he" figuring in them. Elsewhere, the first person narrator pushes to the fore. There's some giddy romanticism:
Quick the window, said Jessamyn.
Yes said I, the window. I closed it.
I shut in the landscape outside.
       But all this -- the city, and even the love-affair -- remains foreign to the protagonist. He is only partially part of it, and he is careful to retain that remove -- perhaps because parting and return to his world is inevitable.
       There's some fine verse here, though Dib's almost glancing style (skipping across description, leaving much for the reader to fill in) makes for a different kind of reading experience than much of the dense verse popular today. What he does very well is introduce and then re-use images and ideas, echoes rippling through the text.
       It is an odd Los Angeles portrait. The city is central to the work, but what is taken from it and used here isn't what one might expect -- and L.A. Trip is far more a personal exploration than a meditation on the city.
       It's wonderful to have the French original to refer to, and the facing translation helps underscore the world presented here: separate realities that can be bridged but remain apart.
       A curious work, and certainly not for everyone, but of some interest.

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L.A. Trip: Mohammed Dib: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Algerian author Mohammed Dib (1920-2003) lived in Paris from 1959 onwards. He wrote in French.

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