Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Detective Fired For Writing Novel

Review: Autumn of the Phantoms. Yasmina Khadra. Translated from French by Aubrey Botsford. New Milford CT: Toby Press, 2005. Paperback: ISBN: 1 59264 143 1 8

Michael Sedano

"Do you seriously take yourself for a novelist, Llob?"
With the tip of his carefully manicured finger, he pushes my work away from him as though it were a piece of garbage: "This grotesque pamphlet is unequalled except by the lowness of its author. In striving to ridicule your society, you've only managed to reduce the scant respect I thought I had for you."

Critics, it seems, are where you find them. For the detective novelist Brahim Llob, the speaker is his Boss. After a few minutes added vitriol, the writer-detective is "retired" and the reader is launched into Llob's story as his career winds its way fitfully to its first-person finis.

Autumn of the Phantoms follows the aftermath of Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra's first novel, Morituri, also featuring detective Llob. That Llob's troubles in Phantoms arise from Khadra's first book not only adds to the enjoyment of this second novel, a conscientious reader will feel compelled to find the first of this pair of Llob stories published by Toby Crime.

Translated work comes with its own set of issues. One conclusion I hold is I'm not reading the original author but the work of the translator. Not that the original doesn't set the framework, but one has to be mindful of the two writers at work in appreciating the uses of language that mark a writer's skill.

And skill abounds in this novel, in small passages and in the whole sweep of the story. I enjoy such swipes as Llob's description of a corrupt banker, where he notes, We got to know each other during an interrogation he's not about to forgive me. Stunted as a milestone, sinister and nasty, he's more likely to take on a risky loan than smile at a stranger.

Readers, whose experience with French colonial literature like The Stranger gave them a sense of place, will enjoy revisiting the scenes of their youthful reading to see what has happened long after Merseault last set foot on that beach.

Who knows that Llob's Algiers doesn't represent our own future? Terrorism and insurgency are second-nature in the city. In one incident, Llob observes matter-of-factly that his trip across town was delayed twenty minutes because of a big shoot-out between police and terrorists. A social event hardly stops when a huge explosion across town raises a pillar of smoke seen from the fancy ballroom.

Ay 'sta 'til next week. Have a comment, or a title to recommend? Please, leave a comment.

Hay les wachamos until next week,



Lorna Dee Cervantes said...

Hey, anyone in Austin tomorrow night?

Wednesday 6 - 7:30 pm
Poets' Pot-Luck Picnic Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway
(esquina del rio y carretera)
Town Lake Park

7:30 - 10pm+
marathon monopoem spin-the-bottle reading
Poets Book Fest
Pecan Tree Restaurant - Blue Bonnet Banquet Room
Holiday Inn Austin Town Lake
20 North Highway 35
Hot & Cold Hors D'oeuvres
bring your own drinks from


Orale! TIME TO GREEZE! Who's up for meeting po'bloggers everywhere? I'm up for hosting a meet & greet marathon monopoem spin-the-bottle reading (A la the good old days of the Annual MANGO Toast 'n' Jam), food, drinks on wednesday evening especially for all my poetry blog buddies - that means you, buddy! Esa! Bring your guitar, all youse local yokels. [yes, yesy, I know, geographic socioeconomic melange: all by intent for deconstructive purpose and strategy y con plenos poderes.]

So, let me know as soon as you can, RSVP, come in on the spur, come as you are -- no cost but a gulp & someone will gulp what you don't. Hey, we're all poets, we're all poor. We'll buy our tacos elsewhere, break bread together and convene later in the boardroom. So just let me know who can come - the more the merrier & more economical, especially if y'all can chip in. Otherwise, we'll have food, water, juice, beer, wine, witty new friends (even if only on the page) and poetry until they all run out except for the friends -- including the ones we haven't yet met. What else is there? Love? PISH-TUSH. O, was that a hair? So, hey, grab your sweetie, round up your buddies, avoid the posse and poesy over to Town Lake (the river, son) and convene beneath the shadow of the freeway with me & my "bums and babblers." Any time you get there is when you're there. "Real Poets" are rumored to arrive -- could be you. All are invited. And, it's free. Come sell your books before the conference. I'll have a table for poets participating in the open-mike spin-the-bottle monopoem marathon and you can buy books direct from the authors.

Come help me celebrate my new book in 15 years, DRIVE: The First Quartet by reading me your best poem. You can contribute to the cost of a cool place to meet up with other poets by buying my book direct from me ($25.00, cloth, 320 pps.) Or not. And help us unite - You have nothing to lose but your poems! Don't be shy (like me) - POETRY ON!

So, spread it around!

Besides my reading Thursday Night at the Con Tinta Event Celebrating 40 Years of Chicano Literature - among other things - and my panel at noon on Friday, and as many of your events as I humanly can, I'll be La Bird hanging loose by my WINGS on 442 Prayers -- just think of my poem, "Coffee" -- I'll be near the coffee, in the back, #442, Wings Press, where I'll be signing books periodically. (CU-CWP students get heavy discount).

You & your buds can contact me at PoetDee AT LornaDeeCervantes DOT ya'know -- or not. See y'all there! (Tejana by birth: my son's.) ¡Ajúa! I LOVE TEXAS.

YEA!! (I'm hearing Donna Summers in my head - somebody help me! Read me a good poem! )

I'm so excited/ And I just can't hide it. . .


Peter Rozovsky said...

You've probably read what I'm about to recommend, which are the first two of Khadra's Brahim Llob novels. I've written about them often on my blog at http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/search/label/Brahim%20Llob ; come visit and leave a comment. I'm looking forward to Autumn of the Phantoms.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"