Simon Caterson

The Child of an Ancient People by Anouar Benmalek (translated by Andrew Riemer)

by
March 2004, no. 259

At once extravagant and tightly wrapped, this novel reinforces the view that historical fiction says as much about the present and the future as it does about the past. At the level of history proper, Anouar Benmalek’s vision unites three continents that, in the second half of the nineteenth century, are subject to the depredations of European colonialism and domestic tyranny. At the human level, his fiction is preoccupied with the bodily functions and basic needs of survival: things that never change. The broad, impersonal sweep of world history is made up of the infinitesimally small transactions of the primal scene: copulating, defecating, vomiting, bleeding, all driven by the elemental forces of fear and desire, violence and conscience.

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With a title like Metre, you know that this magazine is not attracting readers by its chic and sexy appeal. Our own home-grown mags, such as Otis Rush, Salt, and HEAT, at least offer their poetry with a bit more adventure and promise. Furthermore, by combining poetry with a range of fiction, cultural criticism, essays or reviews, such local efforts release poetry from solitary confinement and bring new energies into it. In contrast, Metre seems nostalgic for older times, for days when poetry demanded respectful homage. As the staid European cousin, its conservative title is buoyed only by the overarching gaze of ambition.

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