Immigrants in Paris seek political, economic, and sexual refuge in Taïa’s heart-wrenching tale of postcolonial identity crisis (after Infidels). Zahira, a 45-year-old prostitute, is haunted by memories of her father’s suicide in Morocco when she was a child, and of Allal, a possessive Moroccan who loved her decades earlier. In Paris, Zahira looks out for an Algerian protégé, Zannouba, on the eve of Zannouba’s sex reassignment surgery, and Mojtaba, a gay Iranian dissident, whose innocence awakens Zahira’s maternal instincts. For Zahira and others, solace eludes them in the form of lost or unrequited love, a theme Taïa distills in a nested story of Zahira’s vanished aunt, Zineb. Enlisted by the French to service soldiers in 1950s Indochina, Zineb is left adrift between the family she’s left behind and a love she can only sell. Taïa’s blunt style is shot through with an immediacy accenting the high stakes for those chased across borders and running from their own pasts (“You thought you had fled our world,” says Allal). But Zahira is not free, and Allal has not forgotten her; he is coming now to Paris, planning to kill her. In the churning gears of this compact, deeply moving novel, crises of identity prove more solvable than those of the heart.
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