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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Casablanca Story

In Koli Jean Bofane

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To purchase Casablanca Story

Title: Casablanca Story
Author: In Koli Jean Bofane
Genre: Novel
Written: 2018 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 154 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Casablanca Story - US
Casablanca Story - UK
Casablanca Story - Canada
La Belle de Casa - Canada
La Belle de Casa - France
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Indiana University Press
  • French title: La Belle de Casa
  • Translated by Bill Johnston

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Our Assessment:

B : fine presentation and use of local conditions, from sociological to the climatic, in a solid story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
La Croix . 27/12/2018 Laurent Larcher
Le Point . 11/10/2018 Hassina Mechaï
Le Temps . 17/8/2018 Mireille Descombes

  From the Reviews:
  • "À lire In Koli Jean Bofane, on pense au film de Tarik Saleh Le Caire confidentiel, et aux déambulations de son inspecteur dans une ville aussi rongée par la corruption et la violence (tourné d’ailleurs à Casa et non au Caire). Comme chez Tarik Saleh, In Koli Jean Bofane montre une réalité que nous ne savons pas voir. Ou, peut-être, que nous ne voulons pas voir." - Laurent Larcher, La Croix

  • "À partir de ce préambule comme sorti d'un roman noir, In Koli Jean Bofane réussit le tour de force d'écrire en sous-texte une tragédie humaine. Celle d'une scène où les êtres semblent comme soumis à des forces cachées : le destin implacable, la folie des dieux absurdes ou le vent mauvais du chergui.Autour du cadavre encore chaud d'Ishrak se met en place toute une galerie de personnages. Toute la tension du livre est de comprendre par qui et pourquoi la belle de Casa a été égorgée." - Hassina Mechaï, Le Point

  • "Tout en restant fidèle à son regard critique métissé d’humour, La belle de Casa explore une autre géographie. Elle nous offre le portrait d’une femme reflété dans le miroir d’une ville menacée par la spéculation et frappée par les expulsions sauvages des habitants les plus démunis." - Mireille Descombes, Le Temps

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:

       Casablanca Story begins with Sese Seko Tshimanga bringing the news of the death of a woman he had befriended, Ichrak, to police inspector Mokhtar Daoudi. Sese leads the inspector back to the scene, by Rue du poète Taha Adnan -- Bofane tinges much of the novel with literary reference --, where the woman they both had known lies with her throat cut. From there on, there is some investigation of the crime, but mostly Daoudi only seems to go through some motions -- beginning with locking up Sese for two days, though he doesn't believe Sese is guilty; as he explains: "taking someone into custody is good for my stats, see. It won't be for more than forty-eight hours. You don't mind doing that for a friend, huh ?" (Sese does mind, but of course has little say in the matter; he is then duly released, and not considered a serious suspect.)
       Much of the novel then looks back at the recent life of the victim, and that of Sese, who had fled his native Congo ("The Democratic Republic. The big one. Zaire, you know"), expecting to be smuggled to Normandy a few months earlier only to wash up on the shores of Morocco and find himself stuck here in Casablanca. Sese runs a reasonably successful scam -- albeit one with recently diminishing returns -- sweet-talking European women over the internet and getting them to wire him money. (Yes, apparently he earns enough off of this to live reasonably well.) Still, Sese complained: "The Western seduction boom is imploding" -- as he tried to enlist the very beautiful Ichrak to team up with him, allowing him to expand his customer-base.
       Ichrak was a headstrong woman -- "A girl like that does nothing but attract enemies. She was too quick by half with her tongue" -- who struggled looking after her mentally fragile (and unappreciative) mother, Zahira. Zahira never revealed to Ichrak who her father was -- though this too is a story that comes out over the course of the novel.
       A related storyline has a wealthy Saudi entrepreneur once again carrying out a proven business plan: "a three-phase operation that he planned to repeat: evict, demolish, build luxury housing". The apartment buildings he has currently targeted are still inhabited by a mix of longtime locals and migrant squatters, but he's hired a local woman to clear the lot, by whatever pressure and means necessary.
       The different characters' stories and lives overlap in a contemporary Casablanca tapestry. There are connections, making for a story that fits together, but it also feels a bit ragged; a tighter focus on one (or one person's) story likely would have made for a stronger impact.
       Bofane also gives the novel a literary sheen by having characters read and listen to a variety of literary works -- notably Assia Djebar's Woman without Sepulcher (La femme sans sépulture, 2002) and Kaoutar Harchi's At the Origin Our Obscure Father (À l'origine notre père obscur, 2014), with longer passages from both reproduced here; it's nice to see the literary being shown as being so valued here. (The authors, and their works, are of course chosen for their relevance, too.)
       Local conditions figure prominently, as Bofane does present contemporary Casablanca well -- and a particularly interesting choice is to focus so much on the local weather. The novel's nine chapters all have climate-related titles -- and Bofane repeatedly describes atmospheric and other conditions in great detail, attributing considerable weight to these. So, for example:

     If emotions had come to a climax, it was because in the meantime, under attack from the currents of Africa, the Gulf Stream had had to beat a retreat toward the North Atlantic, forcing Climate Change to scatter. Because of this, the Canary Current and the nor'easterly trades erected a sort of rampart around the Tropic of Cancer, to the east of the Azores High -- the zone controlled by Chergui. These two influences created a larger tropospheric space within which Chergui was able to move forward, activating huge areas of low pressure that could be seen in the way the palm trees lining the avenues danced to its glory, tousled by gusts of wind, like an illustration of its power and at the same time of human frailty when a dreamlike breath plays its part in inflaming human feelings.
       The Chergui -- a Saharan wind -- blows through the entire novel, a presence as strong as any of the others, quite effectively used by Bofane.
       Casablanca Story is hardly (or rather: not only) a murder mystery. The crime and the reasons behind it are eventually revealed -- as are the novel's other mysteries --, but these are basically just parts of a larger picture of violence and iniquity, the (in one way or another) powerful acting out on those ultimately unable to defend themselves, as Ichrak is not the only victim in the novel.
       It's a solid if not entirely successful novel of contemporary life, in a colorful Casablanca (brought to life not least in the descriptions of the weather), more interesting in its parts and individual stories than the slightly unsteady and perhaps too compact whole.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 July 2022

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Casablanca Story: Reviews: In Koli Jean Bofane: Other books by In Koli Jean Bofane under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       In Koli Jean Bofane was born in 1954, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and currently lives in Belgium.

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© 2022 the complete review

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