Almost every Saturday I read the book reviews in the National Post and if there’s time, I’ll flip through the rest of the Weekend section. There are quite a few regular columnists, but I’ve always been drawn to Mireille Silcoff because her observations are so funny and sharp. I even enjoy when she writes about trying to include more of her Jewish faith and culture in the life of her family.
Mireille Silcoff is an award-winning Canadian journalist and founding editor of Guilt & Pleasure Quarterly, a magazine of Jewish writing and ideas.
Chez L’arabe is a collection of short stories that feature characters whose lives are turned upside down in one way or another and how they deal with the disruption. The pièce de résistance is a group of loosely linked stories centered on the narrator’s bout (and Mireille Silcoff’s real-life struggle) with a rare neurological illness that leaves her incapacitated at home. As one day dissolves into the next, out of loneliness and boredom she plots a daring escape.
Overall, I really enjoyed these intelligent and impassioned stories. I imagine Mireille Silcoff found writing incredibly therapeutic when she was ill, as you can intuit how she worked out her feelings through these stories about lack of control and being controlled, betrayal of the body and betrayal by people, hopelessness and finding some kind of dignity in the face of hardship.
Chez l’arabe is an excellent collection of stories, but there were one or two stories I didn’t understand. Just my usual it’s-not-you-it’s me situation with short stories.
Chez L’arabe was one of those books I became wholly absorbed in and couldn’t put down. I was most fascinated by the characters who tolerated someone whose personality and needs overshadowed their own (mothers and daughters, anyone?). As well, I enjoyed reading how the narrator/Mireille tried to survive her bedridden state: watching the moon from different windows, studying the intricacies of the pattern in a curtain. As Mireille Silcoff’s fictional debut, this book deserves all of the praise it has received. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
NOTE: I received a copy of Chez L’arabe with much thanks to House of Anansi, but this in no way influenced the thoughts and opinions expressed in my review.