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Cannonball Read 09/10 VIII

Discussion in 'BoM Blogs' started by Fabius Maximus, Jan 13, 2010.

  1. Fabius Maximus Gems: 19/31
    Latest gem: Aquamarine

    Feb 18, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Book 8: Arabboy by Guener Yasemin Balci

    I never had so much of a hard time finishing a book like I had with this one. Not that it is bad. Far from it. It just transports so much negativity that I got bloody furious more than once while reading it. But let's start from the top.

    The subtitle of the book is 'A Youth in Germany or: The Short Life of Rashid A.' Balci describes the life of Rashid who is the son of refugees from Lebanon. His whole family fled the country during the civil war. While most of them live in East-Turkey, his parents came to Germany, to Berlin. The person of Rashid is real, or rather was. The subtitle hints that his life is cut short. Balci met Rashid when she worked as a social worker in the district of Neukoelln. Balci didn't write a textbook, thought, but rather a novel. She mixes in tidbits from other people she met during her work, but the main part of the book is supposed to be genuine.

    Neukoelln is a district cut in two. In the south, you find small homes where middle class families live. The north – which lies more in the center of Berlin – consists of apartment buildings in which mainly poor people live. Many of them are immigrants, since many indigenous germans didn't want live in the shadow of the Wall and moved away when it was build. Unemployment rates are high, as are crime rates. Most of the people that are left – german and immigrants alike – have little to no education. And since there was no immigration policy in place up until the late 1990ies, immigrants were left alone. They formed their own social networks. Many of them expected to leave the country again, and had no wish to come into contact with indigenous people. This is the millieu where Rashid grows up. His father is a conservative Muslim who beats his wife and children regularly. Rashid makes use of the only getaway he knows: the street. There he meets other youths with similar problems. They learn the lesson quickly: they have to take what they want, because no one will give them anything. It starts out with petty theft and develops into muggings of so-called 'victims', other children or teenagers that are perceived as weak.

    Rashid has an especially steep career. He is hired by a local gangster called Aabid, and gets the task to 'care' for prostitutes. Aabid pays well, as long as you stay on his good side. If you fall from grace, you can count yourself lucky if you survive. Rashid is a good employee. He has money and access to expensive cars, although he has no driver's license. Rashid's fall begins when he gets hooked on Tilidin, a highly-effective painkiller that makes you feel very, very good. Rashid accidentally cuts of his finger while being high, and feels nothing but a dull throbbing. But being addicted to drugs is considered haram – taboo - by Muslims. His Arab friends start to shun him, social pressure makes his non-Arab friends do the same. Finally, he gets caught while plundering a drug store, and is deported to Turkey, where the rest of his family is supposed to help him live an good life. But Rashid is not used to work for a living, and he fails there, too.

    There is nothing good happening in this book, to no one. Even when Rashid falls in love (a notion that he rejects, because only weaklings love), he treats his girlfriend like dirt. When he drops her, she is so distraught that she just give herself to any male that wants her and starts to drink, like her mother. There are tender moments found in the book, but they only happen in Rashid's mind, when he wishes himself away, to let his life behind and start a new one. But these moments are short, and wiped away by his reality.

    Balci uses are very clear and harsh language, which enhances the effect of her words. Her style is not very refined, though that doesn't distract from the story. But it's exactly the problem of the book. Balci tells a story. The reader has no easy way to discern truth from invention. It makes you wonder if Balci exaggerates. Or is it just me, who is a child of the middle class, who has problems believing that anyone can be as violent and hateful as Rashid and his friends? I have also trouble to believe that all these stereotype characters really had relations with Rashid: his violent father, fatalistic mother, obedient sisters, the Arab gangster, the hippie social worker, the blind teachers. It seems that Balci put all these negative stereotypes together to make the story more powerful. I don't know. I'm sure there are people like Rashid, who never learned how to integrate themselves into our society, who never got the chance to do so. And make no mistake: this relates to immigrants and to indigenous Germans.

    Do I recommend the book? Yes, absolutely. But you have to have the stomach for it. I know that it is not (yet?) translated into English. But if you can read German, and are interested in these issues, Arabboy has a lot to offer.
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