Sunday, 21 April 2013

#CBR5 Book 39. "Ett öga rött" (One Eye Red) by Jonas Hassen Khemiri

Page count: 252 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Halim is a teenager in Stockholm, who feels as if he's in opposition to everything and everyone. When he's told the Arabic lessons in school have to stop because of funding cuts, he shows his displeasure by covering the school toilets in graffiti. His father, who runs shop selling a little bit of everything,  worries about his academic progress and stresses the importance of speaking good Swedish if he wants to make something of himself. Both feel the loss of Halim's mother, who died a few years back, greatly. They both try to be supportive of their friend, Nourdine, a washed up actor who's convinced he's just the right interview away from a big break.

Ett öga rött is one of the books I have to read for my Norwegian course, and it's an important and representative example of the sort of migration literature that second and third generation immigrants have written in Scandinavia in the last few decades. While this book is about a second generation teen in Stockholm, his struggle to reconcile the various sides of his identity, and figure out what he wants from life, is just as applicable to immigrants in Norway (which is why we're reading it for my course). A lot of the issues raised in this book are things I see several of my pupils experiencing as well.

Khemiri uses language very deliberately, writing in a broken Swedish that reflects the language and syntax Halim feels most comfortable with. The book is structured as a diary, written in a notebook Halim is given by an elderly family friend, who's the closest thing Halim has to a maternal figure, and who tries to encourage his patriotism towards all things Arabic. It's also made clear from parts of the narrative, that Halim could write syntactically correct Swedish if he wanted to, but he chooses to write the way he does in protest of the oppressive forces who are trying integrate him against his will, by serving fish sticks in the cafeteria, slanting the media against all things Arabic and blaming financial difficulties for the school's cut backs.

A very insightful and engaging novel, showing the development of Halim over the course of his final year of secondary school. His two closest male role models, his father and Nourdine, are both wonderful supporting characters. It's clear that a lot of the turmoil Halim feels, is because of the loss of his mother, and the fact that he and his father rarely speak about the things that really matter to both of them. It probably helps that the protagonist so closely reminds me of several of the boys I've taught over the years, and I recognise a lot of his attitude in the kids I see in my work. One of my favourite course books that I've read this year.

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