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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The African Shore

Rodrigo Rey Rosa

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To purchase The African Shore

Title: The African Shore
Author: Rodrigo Rey Rosa
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 146 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The African Shore - US
La orilla africana - US
The African Shore - UK
The African Shore - Canada
The African Shore - India
La rive africaine - France
Tanger - Deutschland
La orilla africana - España
  • Spanish title: La orilla africana
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Jeffrey Gray

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Our Assessment:

B : effective if very loose overlapping tales

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 5/8/2013 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Less a conventional novel, more an episodic exploration of ennui, superstition, and the intersection of cultures -- European, Latin American, Arab -- that takes place on the eponymous shore, the book is strangely hypnotic." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       The African Shore is a short novel, divided into three parts -- and a total of five chapters, each of which is further divided into shorter sub-chapters. Set in Tangier, on Morocco's coast, it shifts between two stories: that of Hamsa, a young local shepherd with greater ambitions, and that of a Colombian tourist who loses his passport and extends his stay as he waits to get a new one. The characters do eventually meet, and there are connections between them, but Rey Rosa unfolds their stories largely separately.
       The Colombian, visiting with some friends, takes to the local laid-back atmosphere, and doesn't mind staying behind as his traveling companions head back home. While others are introduced (and introduce themselves) by name, the Colombian's remains unmentioned until near the end of the story -- appropriate enough for a man who in some respects is searching for himself, and an identity. Rey Rosa's holding out may seem a bit forced at first, but the very effective scene in which readers finally do learn the character's name justifies the approach.
       The Colombian is married, but not particularly tied to his wife -- though she's the one sending the money to keep him afloat. One later section of the novel consists of a series of letters she writes to him, summing up some of what happens in his absence (and how she's feeling about their relationship ...). He befriends Julie, also visiting -- and enjoys the hospitality of the woman she is staying with, too -- but not much of a relationship develops.
       We learn at one point about the Colombian that:

     He didn't like to lie but sometimes the truth about himself seemed so unacceptable that he let himself, always thinking that he'd change things later so the fiction would match the reality.
       The African Shore is, in part, about that process -- or, arguably, the reaching of the stage where it becomes possible.
       Hamsa's circumstances are humble, but he sees a future for himself, as his uncle has offered him a job -- as lookout for what is obviously meant to be a smuggling operation. His uncle hasn't worked out all the details yet, but Hamsa pins his hopes on this opportunity.
       On more or less a whim -- the Colombian's general approach to most things -- the foreigner buys an owl. If nothing else, it makes for a good conversation piece -- and a few decent episodes. And with Hamsa setting his sights on getting his hands on an owl, the bird connects their two stories, too.
       The short, almost abrupt, scenes (as opposed to a truly flowing, continuous narrative) already serve to keep readers slightly off-balance, and Rey Rosa compounds the effect with the variations on similar paths he creates for his two protagonists. While both seem relatively carefree, ready to go wherever situations lead them, they do also repeatedly act decisively; they are both adrift, in ways, but also quick to seize opportunities as these arise. A nice touch, too, is that while Hamsa is the one who hopes to join his uncle's shady business, it is the Colombian who unexpectedly gets tangled in darker dealings.
       Captive, an object of desire (people try to buy and steal it), injured -- possibly so badly that it might never fly again --, then healed, the owl is a heavy-duty symbol that Rey Rosa gets a lot of mileage out of. Nevertheless, there's enough to the often vivid episodes in the novel for it not to overwhelm the story (or stories ...).
       Evocative, even moving -- though with an air that can at times feel too artificially elliptically-mysterious -- The African Shore is quite gripping. For much of the novel it feels like Rey Rosa offers only glimpses -- accentuated by the presentation in little more than short bursts -- but it does ultimately come together reasonably well as a whole.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 November 2013

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The African Shore: Reviews: Rodrigo Rey Rosa:
  • Profile by Ronald Flores
  • Q & A with Francisco Goldman in Bomb
Other books by Rodrigo Rey Rosa under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Guatemalan author Rodrigo Rey Rosa was born in 1958.

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© 2013-2023 the complete review

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