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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Abahn Sabana David

Marguerite Duras

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To purchase Abahn Sabana David

Title: Abahn Sabana David
Author: Marguerite Duras
Genre: Novel
Written: 1970 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 108 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Abahn Sabana David - US
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Abahn Sabana David - Canada (French)
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in Destruir, Dice / Abahn Sabana David - España
  • French title: Abahn Sabana David
  • Translated by Kazim Ali
  • Abahn Sabana David was filmed as Jaune le soleil, directed by Duras

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Our Assessment:

B : odd, unsettling chamber piece

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 14/8/2016 Nancy Kline
Publishers Weekly . 11/4/2016 .
Wall St. Journal . 22/7/2016 Martin Riker

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)his slim, raw political novel (.....) How to understand this text, available for the first time in English, in Kazim Aliís translation ?" - Nancy Kline, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Durasís sleek prose unfurls like poetry: terse, punchy sentences that often move down the page rather than across it into paragraphs. The language is repetitive, often elliptical, digging at concepts in multiple passes. Often the spare language achieves a provocative resonance (.....) Depending on a readerís temperament, it can engross or frustrate" - Publishers Weekly

  • "As in Beckett, the characters and events seem to be overtly allegorical, even if the nature of the allegory is not always clear. (...) Durasís nihilism is complicated: humanistic, thick with pathos. It hides behind desire in many of her more famous works, giving her passions an existential urgency, but here in Abahn Sabana David, it is laid bare." - Martin Riker, Wall Street Journal

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:

       Abahn Sabana David begins out in the open, two people approaching a house, but once they enter it essentially all the action takes place within those walls. In fact there's little action -- except for off-scene, where, for example, shots will ring out and dogs howl --, as Abahn Sabana David is mostly talk. It has the feel of a play- or film-script, with limited, simple description of the limited scenery and character-movements, and a great deal of short, blunt dialogue.
       The house where this takes place is that of Abahn, a Jew; his first two visitors are Sabana and David -- and they are all joined by another man ("I was passing by", he explains) who, to complicate matters, is also named Abahn. The Jewish Abahn is a foreigner who came to Staadt; he is apparently perceived as a threat by a local strongman, Gringo, who has sent Sabana and David here to watch over him until his fate is to be decided, at daybreak, when Gringo is expected and will pass judgement. Beyond that, the Jewish Abahn and David apparently know each other, or at least have spoken previously. David is married to Jeanne -- who will later approach the house and be heard through the door, though not seen -- and David is also carrying a gun. But, either completely over- or under-whelmed by his assignment, David also nods off while they're keeping watch over the Jew.
       There is little clear debate here, but a great deal of fragmentary back and forth -- about the Jewish background (his individual one, as well as the larger one of Jews in general), about Gringo, about themselves. Gringo labeled the Jew a traitor soon after his arrival -- "He was in the Party and he betrayed it", Gringo claimed, because he: "questions the Party line on the Soviet concentration camps". Indeed, Abahn Sabana David could easily be seen as set in a late 1960s-era Communist state, locally controlled and terrorized by Gringo.
       No one feels comfortable here -- the outside cold, the darkness of night, and then the howling dogs and shots contributing to the oppressive atmosphere. Everyone seems exhausted -- not just sleeping David -- and dulled, with it clear to everyone that the Jew won't try to make a break for it, for example.
       Some history is mentioned -- those Soviet concentration camps; Nazi horrors -- but most of the talk is in vaguer generalities. There's a hypnotic quality to it -- like late-night conversation can have -- but also a(n obviously intentional) numbing one. The exchanges tend to the succinct but don't feel quick; there's a slow deliberate pace of inevitability, rather than much immediacy.
       So, for example:

     Then Abahn continues:
     "I know nothing of life."
     Silence. No motion at all on David's smooth and pale face.
     "I don't know anything about my life any more," says Abahn. "I will die without knowing."
     David says:
     "It doesn't matter."
     "Nothing," says Abahn. "In the end: nothing."
     "Me either," says David. "I don't know anything either."
     "No, you don't."
       Much of Abahn Sabana David circles around in this way, weighty subject matter to which it can feel there isn't quite enough meat, the individuals' stories not quite fleshed out enough (while also not left entirely abstract). There's power to the elliptical narrative, and to this story, but it feels uneasily balanced between a specific case -- of the persecution of Jews -- and addressing much broader -- even existential -- issues.
       Abahn Sabana David does exert considerable fascination -- in no small part through how Duras uses language, and the dialogue-heavy slow stuttering along of the narrative -- and at just over a hundred pages easily maintains enough disturbing suspense. If ultimately it also doesn't feel entirely satisfying that too almost seems appropriate, given Duras' story and subject matter(s).

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 June 2016

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Abahn Sabana David: Reviews: Jaune le soleil - the film: Marguerite Duras: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Marguerite Duras lived 1914 to 1996.

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© 2016 the complete review

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