The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris
By: Leila Marouane
Paige’s Rating: (3) of 5
Recommended for: Religious-Fiction Readers
A witty story about Mohamed, a 40-year-old Muslim in France, who is trying to leave his mother and live the life he has only been able to dream of.
This book starts off strong with a gem of a character Mohamed, a 40 year old virgin Muslim banker with a needy, over-bearing mother. As I dove into the book I was thoroughly fascinated by Mohamed because had I not, while living in Istanbul, known many men like him? Just not quite 40? Indeed I had. The plot seemed as if it would pivot around Mohamed’s succession from his family and conquest of the opposite sex. Had the book followed that path, I could have given it 5 stars easily. However, while the characters and writing are strong, the plot itself leaves many questions.
Mohamed goes through all the thoughts of a 40 year old finally leaving the tablier strings of his mommy dearest. He worries about how she will react to him leaving home and comes up with elaborate lies in order for her to digest this news better. But even more endearing, or for some readers perhaps it’s a bit misogynistic, is Mohamed’s completely pathetic behavior when around women. As he encounters women, it is clear that he is not only a virgin but a clueless one. Waiting for a young woman to call him, when the reader can clearly see that she is not interested in him, Mohamed makes sure keep his phone on in case she does call him. He reeks of desperation in every female interaction, including that with his own mother. Being familiar with Turkish mothers, many times I laughed at the accuracy of Mohamed and his mother’s exchanges, but maybe this humor would be lost on those who don’t have such experiences. I find his character and his mother’s character completely believable in the context of Muslims in Paris.
So where this fascinating tale goes wrong is in its plot, as it slips further from an aesthetical piece of literature to a philosophical one. *Spoiler Alert* In the third part of the book, Mohamed’s sister comes in and tells him that his mother is coming to visit him at his private domain. It is through his interaction with her that we begin to see that the women Mohamed was hunting down were not real at all. Or at least one was not. Were they are all figments of his imagination? Mohamed is obsessed with a female writer, whose books are scattered around his home. In these novels, the female characters have similar lives of that as the women Mohamed has interacted with. In this way, things get a bit meta-fictional (is that a word?) and confusing.
Maybe the author is trying to focus on the impossibility of escaping your identity. Certainly one could argue that however, I believe that if this truly was the goal of the author, going about it in a less confusing way would have been more poignant. I would have loved to see Mohamed marry the exact type of women his mother would have wanted for him. I would have loved to see him get painfully rejected and brought to reason. I would have loved for him to go back to his conservative ways; or maybe finally being a man and standing up to his family. Either way, any outcome other than poor Mohamed losing his mind would have been more desirable and enjoyable, like really good sex ought to be.