Algerian Teenage Angst

This is my review of Beni ou le paradis prive by Azouz Begag.

This is good for improving your "streetwise French" and provides an insight into the pressures on the children of Algerian immigrants growing up in French cities such as Lyons. There must be more than a touch of autobiography in Azouz Begag's portrayal of Beni, by turns cocky or insecure and self-deprecating. We see him facing prejudice at school, from the police, his would-be friend's mother and in his attempts to forge a western-style social life.

There are some moving moments: Beni persecutes his downtrodden sister, but feels sorry when he upsets her, yet cannot hug her since that kind of physical contact simply does not occur in his culture. He half-despises his father, a manual worker on construction sites, desperate for his son to succeed, trying to exert his authority by force if need be, but dependent on Beni to write letters for him. Yet despite his urges to be a normal teenager, Beni cannot break free from his father's values. When he is denied entry to a porn film (on grounds of age) he consoles himself with the knowledge that at least he can go home and look his father in the eye without lying.

Beni tries to survive by playing the comic, and fantasising about becoming a comedian or, in the meantime, realising a romance with a blonde class mate.

The story is really a set of anecdotes which you may find entertaining, along with Beni's tendency to misunderstand French words, despite his tactless habit of correcting people's grammar. It may appeal mostly as a novel for teenagers, but to be honest I found it quite tedious after a while.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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