Unconventional in style and construction, it is very easy for the reader to get lost in its paragraphs and to understand very little of what's happening in and among its hodgepodge of characters. It is ambiguous, vague, often indecipherable, and yet the author does not seem to prioritize clarity or reader comprehension. When dealing with the concept of home--which at one point is argued as the source of one's identity, and at another, as something completely unrelated--the author is unapologetically confusing, inconcise and almost rude. And yet, as I write about it now, I feel it's precisely this rudeness which makes the book so offensively beautiful. Let me attempt to clarify:
Primarily Benarroch reexamines the concept of a promised land, an ideal of which he asks: "Is it truly attainable?" And he further agonizes, "If so, where is it?" Narrating the experiences and memories of the Benzimra family of Tetouan, Morocco, he juxtaposes their past with the identities they now needed to refashion in order to live in Europe and Jerusalem. He raises the questions "Who am I?" which in itself is a question of "Who are we?" and ultimately, "Who am I in relation to others?" The answers are perplexing, flooded with contradiction, and yet the author seems to be concluding: perhaps this is all that we really are--a people full of irony. "Perhaps," the author might be saying, "we Jewish people are really just wanderers in the wilderness, merely passing through."
The passages, the interviews, the anecdotes, all of these are written like fragments of a lost identity. And the book is a stream of consciousness, the thoughts of a man preoccupied with picking up these shards and arranging them into a mosaic--an attempt to depict that which is elusive. As one of the characters in the story soliloquizes, "I'll write down the lie, and maybe that lie I write about you and me will enable some truth to flourish, some kind of understanding, maybe I'll find a few more pieces of the mosaic."
Intentionally written like a surge of memories, it is hazy, ambiguous, imperfect, and yet sentimental. It is at once poetic and meditative, reminiscent of Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground and Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain. It is a recommended read for anyone looking for work that is unafraid to be raw, with edges that cut to the heart. I give Mois Benarroch's Keys to Tetouan a 4 out of 4."
The book focuses on the story of the Benzimra family: a Jewish family that has been around for several generations. The family has an incredible number of relatives, most of which are described or describe themselves, and they each have their own story. The family is spread out around the world and has been for centuries; some living in South America and others in Europe. The book is told as if it were a compilation of stories all revolving around one main idea: their Jewish roots, their home (Tetouan), and finding their family history. Even though the author is Mois Benarroch, it feels like there are countless authors because many of the characters share pieces of their life story and personal experiences. Each character has their own way of expressing themselves and their opinions that makes them stand out among the rest, a trait not found in many books.
I rated this book 3 out of 4 stars because it was good, but it wasn't amazing. I will admit that it was beautifully written and that you can feel the writer's emotions through their words, which is probably what I liked the most about it. Whenever each character speaks, it feels like they are talking directly to you. I also really liked how vividly each moment is described. I liked the way that the author connected the characters and how each character's part of the story contributed to the big picture.
As I mentioned above, it wasn't amazing. There were a few grammatical errors here and there. Also, I felt like the plot was lacking a little more excitement or suspense. There were very few plot twists and that is what I personally love to find in a book. The story itself flowed very nicely, but it didn't have the element of surprise. I didn't find the book exciting, but rather educational. The author includes many historical events and explains the religious situation at the time, so some parts reminded me of reading a history textbook instead of a story.
Since the book gives a lot of importance to the Jewish religion and their customs, as well as their history, I would recommend it to readers that have an interest in that sort of thing. By that I mean readers that enjoy historical books or are interested in the Jewish religion. I think that even people that don't care for these things can enjoy the book as well, because those things don't appeal to me, yet I liked it. Nevertheless, I would recommend it to anyone that likes to read about history or wants to know more about Judaism."