Jonas Hassin Khemeri
Knopf, Mar 8 2011, $26.95
Abbas left Tunisia to settle in Stockholm. Over eight years ago, he vanished. An email from Kadir of Tunisia to first time published novelist Jonas Khemiri offers an intriguing proposition. Kadir claims to have been Abbas’ best friend at a Tunisian orphanage while Jonas is Abbas’ adult son. The former wants to collaborate with a latter on Abbas’s biography.
Abbas came to Sweden without a krona to his name or an identity beyond orphan as he fell in love with a flight attendant. With money lent from Kadir, Abbas follows his beloved to Stockholm, where like a Cinderfella they marry and raise a family. However, the North African fails to adapt to life in Sweden and worse is unable to support his family as a photographer as xenophobic Swediot bigots vandalize his studio. Frustrated in his attempts to fit in while his son taunts him, he gave up and disappeared only to become world recognized as a superstar in New York.
This is an excellent look at modern Swedish society’s so called melting pot in which one prime ingredient is acceptable in the stew; though this could be just about anywhere with few true international cities. The story line is driven by Kadir and Jonas who share commentary on Abbas. However, what makes the novel superior is the Tunisian-Swedish dialect (incredibly translated into English by Rachel Willson-Broyles) as readers will believe Abbas is a real person whose journey from frightened child to world accolades starts in Tunisia, goes to Sweden and ends in New York.