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The Last Patriarch by Najat El Hachmi

The Last Patriarch (2008)

by Najat El Hachmi

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The Last Patriarch is the story of two people: Mimoun, son of a long line of Driouch patriarchs (and the "last patriarch" of the book's title) and his daughter, who ended his reign of authority.

Narrated by the grown daughter, the story begins in Morocco with the birth of Mimoun. As he grows up, it is clear that he is different, that something is wrong with him. Whether it has an organic cause or the result of abuses by some of the men in his family, Mimoun has great rages, intense jealousies, and uncontrolled passions. While the root of his instability is not clear, it is clear through the narration that Mimoun's behavior is enabled by the women of his family who coddle him, and a culture in which patriarchal authority is supreme.

Mimoun will eventually marry, and then leave his family to go to Spain to work, coming home perhaps once a year. He lives roughly, becomes reasonably successful at business, and certainly lives more comfortably in a modern state with his mistress than his family, who he has left behind at his father's house, all of whom struggle to survive. Until, that is, his family decides the situation is not tolerable and go to Spain to join him.

There isn't anything to like in Mimoun; he's a tyrant, an abuser and often mentally unstable - but he does have a sense of responsibility that makes him settle his family and rejoin them (and keeps the mistress, one of a long line of mistresses). His reign over the family is terrifying at times, but life goes on for them. Once the family comes to Spain, the story becomes the daughter's. Nameless throughout the book, she is bright girl with much promise, who is subject to her father's authority and abuses. He claims to adore his first born daughter, so perhaps she witnesses a bit more than she experiences directly, but his stranglehold on her person in complete. She seeks refuge and comfort in the Catalan dictionary, and later when she is older, in literature. These things help her to assimilate into the Catalan/Spanish culture around her, and will be a foundation in her eventual escape from her father through one final, desperate act.

This book is difficult to read, it is full of relentless abuse of various kinds: violence, attempted suicide, attempted murder...etc.. and yet, and yet... the storytelling is exquisite, and it is the narrative voice of the daughter, who clearly is telling this story from some safe, good place in the future (and thus provides a sense of hope), and who can find humor in the most horrible of circumstances, which mesmerizes the reader, and carries one through the book to the end. It is a wonderfully detailed and vivid picture of family life, both back in rural Morocco, and then later caught between two cultures in Spain. I found that once I had closed the pages, the horror faded and it was the triumph of the daughter, the essence of that desperate act, that really stuck with me. ( )
8 vote avaland | May 10, 2011 |
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El último patriarca es la historia de una rebelión personal contra un orden establecido desde hace miles de años. También es una mirada lúcida sobre las víctimas y los verdugos. Mimoun y su hija nacen para cumplir el papel que el patriarca les ha asignado pero unos cambios en las circunstancias que los envuelven serán decisivos para propiciar el giro del orden de las cosas. Ésta es una historia familiar, una historia donde las contradicciones internas de los personajes afloran para marcar unas relaciones hechas de desencuentros. Una historia definida por la ruptura que supone la separación.
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A novel of fathers and daughters, and the conflict between duty and desire, set in rural Morocco and urban Catalunya. It presents saga of a Moroccan family and a story of a girl's struggle to find her own identity and break free of a domineering father.… (more)

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