6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Postcards from the Edge’ to ‘Night Boat to Tangier’

It’s the first Saturday of the month, which means it’s time to participate in Six Degrees of Separation (check out Kate’s blog to find out the “rules” and how to participate).

This month the starting book is a bestselling work of autobiographical fiction…

‘Postcards from the Edge’ by Carrie Fisher (1987)

I read this one back in the day, having been a bit of a Fisher fan (the only doll I ever owned as a girl was a Princess Leia doll, that’s how much of a fan I was — LOL). I can’t honestly remember much about the book, other than it was a tale about a woman recovering from a drug overdose and was written with a wicked sense of humour. My link is a bit tenuous, but the title reminds me of…

‘Alone in Berlin’ by Hans Fallada (1947)

This big, baggy German novel is about a pair of Nazi resisters who risk their lives by dropping postcards all over Berlin as a form of silent protest during the Second World War. The postcards, which have anti-Hitler messages scrawled upon them, are left in public buildings across the city. Another story set in Berlin is…

‘The Wall Jumper’ by Peter Schneider (1982)

This novel, which reads like reportage, is about life in the divided city before the wall came down and what risks people took to cross from one side to the other. Walls of a different kind feature in…

‘The Tortilla Curtain’ by T.C. Boyle (1997)

Set in California, this is about the illegal citizens who cross the border and live in abject poverty, while the middle-class US citizens with a fortress mentality lock themselves away in gated communities, almost too afraid to live. Another book about illegal immigrants is…

‘The Death of Murat Idrissi’ by Tommy Wieringa (2019)

Two Dutch women holidaying in Morocco agree to smuggle a man across the border into Europe with devastating consequences in this compelling novella. Another novella set in Morocco is…

‘Whitefly’ by Abdelilah Hamdouchi (2016)

In this Arabic crime story a detective investigates the death of three young men, washed up on a local beach, who are thought to be illegal immigrants who have fallen overboard en route to Spain. This brings to mind…

‘Night Boat to Tangier’ by Kevin Barry (2019)

In this brilliant black comedy, two underworld criminals from Ireland are at the Spanish port of Algeciras waiting for someone to get off the night boat from Tangier. As they sit there, passing the time, they recall the ups and downs they have weathered over the years as drug dealers with operations in Cork and Spain. It’s menacing but it’s also very funny.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a black comedy about drug addiction to a black comedy about drug dealers via tales about walls, both real and metaphorical, and illegal immigration.

Have you read any of these books? 

Please note, you can see all my other Six Degrees of Separation contributions here.

Abdelilah Hamdouchi, Author, Book review, Books in translation, crime/thriller, Fiction, Hoopoe, Morocco, Publisher, Setting

‘Whitefly’ by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

Fiction – paperback; Hoopoe; 136 pages; 2016. Translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Smolin.

First published n 2000 as al-Dhubaba al-bayda by al-Muttaqi Brintira, Whitefly is the first Arabic detective novel to be translated into English.

I bought it in Kinokuniya, in Dubai, earlier in the week, because I was looking for something “local” to read — or at least originally published in Arabic — and this seemingly fit the bill. (I love that the Dubai store has a whole section devoted to Arabic fiction, and another for Asian fiction, which makes the browsing experience so much more fulfilling if you’re looking for something in those areas of interest.)

Unfortunately, the book doesn’t have an “about the author” section, so I had to Google “Abdelilah Hamdouchi” to find our more about him. According to this article on Words Without Borders, he was born in  Morocco in 1958 and has written several police detective novels with a human rights bent. Whitefly is his third.

Detective story set in Morocco

Set in modern-day Morocco, the book introduces us to Detective Laafrit, a 40-year-old policeman, married with a young child, who is well respected by those he works with, including the Commissioner, who is of a higher rank but treats him as if their positions are reversed.

The story follows his investigation into the death of three young men, washed up dead on a local beach over the course of a couple of days. It’s believed the men are harraga (illegal immigrants) who have fallen overboard while trying to reach Spain.

When a fourth corpse washes up the case takes on a new dimension, for the man has been shot four times and it’s clear that the leather jacket he’s wearing has been put on him after he’s been killed.

Laafrit pins his hopes on finding the gun, because that will ultimately lead to the killer. (Guns are illegal in Morocco and very difficult to obtain.) He uses his underworld contacts to help him find the weapon and to find out more about the identities of the men. Did they all know each other? And, if they did, what is their connection? Why was one brutally murdered?

Atmospheric setting

The best bit about this novella is the setting. I’ve not really read anything set in Morocco before (apart from Nina Bawden’s A Woman of My Age, but that was simply about an English character on holiday there) and I found it fascinating to be thrust into unfamiliar territory. I had to do a lot of Googling to find out more about the tense relationships between Spain and Morocco over people smuggling, and to work out why the cities of Ceuta and Melilla were so controversial. Turns out they’re both Spanish territories on the African continent, sharing a border with Morocco, which makes it easier for Africans to enter Europe illegally.

I found out other things I didn’t know about Morocco, too, such as the fact that three million Moroccans live on tomatoes as their main food source.

The crime itself, which appears to be part of the dark shadowy world of people smuggling and illegal immigration, morphs into something else entirely (involving agriculture, food production and industrial espionage) — and I’m not sure it worked as well as it could have. It was certainly an intriguing concept, but I felt it could have been fleshed out a lot more than the 136 pages that this slim volume allowed.

And while I finished Whitefly with a sense of disappointment, I’m going to hunt out more books by Abdelilah Hamdouchi in due course because this novella, for all its faults, was an effortless read and one that evoked a strong Moroccan vibe I’m keen to experience again.