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The Drift Latitudes by Jamal Mahjoub
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The Drift Latitudes

by Jamal Mahjoub

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The novel is meant to be about refugees over the generations, as Mahjoub signals in the sisters' visions: Rachel watching poor marsh-dwellers passing her gate, Jade among the illegal immigrants of London. But Jade's vision does not connect to the real world, and neither does Mahjoub's. He never mentions the real refugees from Germany, anti-Nazis and Jews; and Rachel is not a refugee, but someone who married for love.
 
By understanding that life is improvised on fundamental themes like belonging and knowledge of self, Mahjoub has made an illuminating statement about the human condition. His combination of sharp lateral thinking, structural ingenuity and descriptive power paints a vivid picture of identities in flux, cities as fluid, imagined spaces, the sea as a fixed backdrop of moving, timeless tales.
 
Though a few feel peripheral, Mahjoub's characters are mostly deftly drawn. The book is not without humour. Part of the diaspora of German scientists, Ernst ends up producing gadgets for the back pages of the Illustrated News (the Innovations catalogue of its day). In some ways, The Drift Latitudes is very much of its time even as it telescopes time: when Ernst finds Babylonian ruins (ruined twice over) inside the sacked Pergammon museum in postwar Hamburg, his guide points out that "civilisation is all about who steals the best stuff". But this beguiling cyclical narrative is also enlarged by allusion: Mahjoub uses Herman Melville for an epigraph and has Ernst invoke Melville's Redburn, another seeker after his father in Liverpool over a century earlier. Jade's moving return to the burned-out site of the Blue Nile, where waterfront jazz and fado, tango and ska had once formed a "confluence of dreams", reminded me finally of something in Melville's big American novel: "the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it".
added by kidzdoc | editThe Guardian, Paul Farley (Feb 18, 2006)
 
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For Judith Marie Mahjoub (née Gerlach) 1929-1998
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Time was air. Seconds transformed into tiny magical orbs that glinted like mercury as they wriggled past the glass inspection windows in the brass tubes that snaked through the control room. The silver spheres were the only indication of what was happening in the ballast tanks. It was his job to keep an eye on them, to see how fast they moved, in which direction, and when they stopped.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0701178221, Paperback)

Born to a British mother and a Sudanese father, Mahjoub explores the emotional complexity of a post-colonial world. His sixth novel, an intricate piece of storytelling, unravels the cultural identity of a mixed-race woman in London.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:27 -0400)

We must all forge lives for ourselves in the places we happen to be, and 'The Drift Latitudes' explores with great humanity and warmth how people who have drifted away from their origins survive by improvising their own beliefs and certainties.

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