Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Showcase Straight From The Horse's Mouth by MERYEM ALAOUI Translated by EMMA RAMADAN

 Ah today I have another offering from my favorite Indie Other Press, Straight From The Horse's Mouth by MERYEM ALAOUI Translated by EMMA RAMADAN. A debut novel about a present day Moroccan sex worker where it was first published in France it received high marks.

ISBN-13: 978-1-892746-79-5
Publisher: Other Press
Release Date: 9-15-2020
Length: 304pp
Buy It: Amazon/B&N/IndieBound



This hilarious, colorful portrait of a sex worker navigating life in modern Morocco introduces a promising new literary voice.

Thirty-four-year-old prostitute Jmiaa reflects on the bustling world around her with a brutal honesty, but also a quick wit that cuts through the drudgery. Like many of the women in her working-class Casablanca neighborhood, Jmiaa struggles to earn enough money to support herself and her family—often including the deadbeat husband who walked out on her and their young daughter. While she doesn’t despair about her profession like her roommate, Halima, who reads the Quran between clients, she still has to maintain a delicate balance between her reality and the “respectable” one she paints for her own more conservative mother.

This daily grind is interrupted by the arrival of an aspiring young director, Chadlia, whom Jmiaa takes to calling “Horse Mouth.” Chadlia enlists Jmiaa’s help on a film project, initially just to make sure the plot and dialogue are authentic. But when she’s unable to find an actress who’s right for the starring role, she turns again to Jmiaa, giving the latter an incredible opportunity for a better life.

In her breakout debut novel, Meryem Alaoui creates a vibrant picture of the day-to-day challenges faced by working people in Casablanca, which they meet head-on with resourcefulness and resilience.

Read an excerpt:





When I’m finished working, I don’t waste any time. I put my djellaba back on, smooth out its creases, and I wait. For the guy to zip up his fly, smoke a cigarette, and leave, so I can go back to my spot and harpoon another guy. That’s the first thing I told Halima when she arrived last week.
The day he brought her, Houcine asked me to teach her a few things about the profession, explaining that she had just gotten out of prison. I don’t know anything else about her.
And to be honest, Houcine was a little annoyed that day. So I didn’t ask too many questions. He’s always on edge. You can tell by his muscles. Slender but conspicuous, like they’ve been outlined with a pen. The last time he blew a fuse was only two days earlier. I don’t remember exactly what happened. Someone he doesn’t like must have disrespected one of his girls.
That’s the thing he hates most in the world, who knows why. When it happens, you can’t do anything to stop it. His mustache starts to quiver, he stands up straight, though he’s already tall, his skin blackens, though he’s already dark, and all you can see are the scars spread over his body like the cracks in the city’s sidewalks. Or maybe more like the stripes on a tiger’s coat. It’s intimidating, and that’s why we work for him. We feel safe.
Now, Halima and I, we’re sitting on my bed, in the dark, and to tell you the truth, I’m only explaining the bare minimum to her. It took me years to learn what I know; I’m not about to give everything away to some slut who’s just starting out. And as for Houcine—worked up or not—he doesn’t get to tell me how to spend my free time.
When she arrived, there was no need to show her around my place. The tour doesn’t take long. The room is rectangular, and inside are two mattresses perpendicular to the door. Lounge furniture during the day, and at night they’re beds. There’s one for my daughter and one for me.
I also have a small round wooden table to eat on. And an armoire for our clothes. Halima stows her things in a horrible blue bag and sleeps on a foam mattress that she brought with her. When she
wakes up in the morning, she rolls it up and wedges it between the armoire and the mattress on the right. Above one of these mattresses, there’s a window that looks out onto the street. I spend a decent amount of time there. Because when I’m not watching television, I’m watching the people come and go while I eat pepitas.
To the left of the entrance, there’s a kitchen. Not a real kitchen. It’s just a room that serves as a kitchen. I furnished it with a small fridge, a butane stove, a cooking pot, some large plastic tubs, and my favorite thing in the house besides the TV: a beige teapot with a pink flower on it and clear glasses, engraved with flowers, all of which sit on a round tray. I keep the tray on a wooden shelf way up high, so that nothing breaks. Opposite the shelf, there’s a square opening that looks onto the hallway with the rooms rented by the other girls, and the bathroom, which has a toilet and a faucet for our ablutions.
This is my home.
And since there’s no bathtub, once a week—Monday—I go to the hammam. Before going to the bath, I wash my clothes and lay them on the roof, on the wire clotheslines we share with the others in the building. I told Halima not to touch the ones all the way to the right. They belong to the neighbor on the second floor. She’s not one of us, but believe me, she knows how to command respect.
The other day, we wanted to move the garbage can down below, at the entrance, because someone pointed out that when we bring men back, sometimes they grimace when they see all the black bags under the staircase. It’s true that it’s not very clean. Plus, when they’re not closed properly, they attract street cats, who come and scavenge around inside. They rip open the bags and then garbage ends up everywhere. On the stairs, on the ground, even on the walls.
So, since we were sick of it, we sent Rabia, who lives on the first floor, to knock on everyone’s door and tell them that from now on, they had to throw their trash in the large green garbage can on the sidewalk opposite the building. Not the one at the entrance. The neighbor on the second floor nearly gouged Rabia’s eyes out when she heard that. Rabia, in typical Rabia fashion, was terrified.
Honestly, I get why. You’d have to see her, the neighbor, to really understand what I mean. She’s tall and looks like an armoire. She has black hair, pulled back beneath her scarf. Her enormous breasts are an extension of her stomach, or the other way around. And when she speaks, she always has one eyebrow raised and her hands on her hips. As soon as you see her, you ask yourself what the hell you’re doing in front of her.
So, when Rabia went to talk to her about the garbage, she was polite.
“Salaam,” Rabia said to her.
“Salaam,” she replied, stressing the “s” like a snake, her eyebrow prepared for war.
“My sister, please, we’re having problems with the trash, so we’ve decided to start putting it on the opposite sidewalk, in the green garbage can. Can you put yours over there too?”
“My trash?”
And she continued without pausing for breath: “What do you mean, my trash? You think I’m the
one you need to tell to throw her trash in the street?”
“. . .”
“And you come into my home to say this to me?”
“. . .”
“You should take care of the filth that you all spread around here before coming to see me!”
When she started her tirade, her right hand was on her hip and her forehead closed the gap with Ra- bia’s, like the Eid sheep when you try to catch it. When she was talking about herself, she brought her left index finger to her chest, tapping on it. And when she was talking about us, she brought it right in front of Rabia’s eyes. Rabia didn’t push back, even though it’s not like her to miss an opportunity to stand up for herself. She just muttered, “All right, all right, no need to get worked up.”
Rabia turned back around while her neighbor continued to grumble behind her back, saying, “It just keeps getting better . . .” From where I was on the stairs, I could see her shooting daggers into Rabia’s back as she tied up her hair, pin in her mouth and head slightly cocked back to better arrange her bun. I could see her dirty look as she continued to whistle between her teeth, “And she came into my home to say this to me . . .”
When Rabia told us later that she hadn’t wanted to fight backwe understood that it wasn’t worth pushing. Because Rabia has good instincts. That’s saved her more than a few times in her life. Really, we all have good instincts. And that’s why we’re here, in the middle of downtown Casablanca with Houcine, and not in prison or living on the streets.
Since that day, we’ve stopped asking Fatty for anything. That’s what we call the neighbor. Fatty, or Okraïcha, it depends. And we move the trash ourselves, since she still leaves it in the entryway.
Telling this to Halima, I might have forgotten to mention that some nights, when we’re good and tipsy, we climb onto the roof, we throw Okraïcha’s sheets to the ground, and we hose them down with you know what, laughing like lunatics.
In those moments, I let out a youyou like no one’s ever heard before. I’m incredible at youyous. When I unleash my tongue, it takes off like a high-speed train.
So with all the noise we make, it’s impossible for Fatty not to hear us. That’s part of the reason we revel in it so much.
She never comes up, never says anything.
“So, while you’re in my home, you don’t go anywhere near Fatty, understand?” I say to Halima.
With her distressed face and her puppy dog eyes, she says yes.
I approach the ashtray, I light a cigarette, and I puff on it rapidly as I continue to tell her about my days, emphasizing what’s essential: quantity. Because you have to get with them, men, to live. At least six per day. Seven or eight is better, but six is pretty good.
When I finish with a client, I run back to my spot. Really I walk, but when you see me, it looks like I’m running. That moron Hamid, the security guard for the Majestic garage at the end of the street, told me that. The bony guy who spends his days shooing flies. He’s worked in the garage for at least ten years. Since the day he failed his bac, actually. And for ten years, he’s been shooing away flies. At night, he’s always hanging around with two or three of his friends, a band of bums, and he tells them everything he sees during the day.
I’ve never slept with any of them. In the neighborhood, I only sleep with those passing through, not anyone who lives or works here. They respect you more that way.
At least, that’s my official story, because when I need to, I do it in a corner and don’t tell a soul. But I’ve never been with Hamid. I just hang around with Hamid from time to time, so he’ll tell me the latest news of the neighborhood.
Since the garage is next door to our building, I often walk by. And it’s true that I always walk quickly, except when I’m looking for a man, because then you still have to look attractive. When that’s on my mind, I slow down and I try to look good. I sway my hips slowly, I look right and left; I lean on my left leg, then on my right, like a camel. From behind, it’s a slow, nervous movement; my butt cheeks rise and fall in jerks. It’s appetizing, like the caramel puddings I buy for my daughter.
In the street, I have my spot on the sidewalk, on the stairs, near the traffic light. At the intersection of two main streets next to the market. It’s the best spot. I’m not the only one there, of course, but it’s the best spot.
When you’re experienced, that’s where Houcine puts you. Because when you have years of hard work behind you, you deserve not to struggle so much, but also because you have to know how to look out for the cops. Generally, we don’t have problems with them. Houcine knows them well. And we do too . . .
But every now and then, they show up. Like when Anissa, the crazy girl who often hangs around the neighborhood, is off her head and screaming at the top of her lungs about God, her pussy, and the son of a bitch who did this to her all in the same breath. When they arrive, you recognize them from a distance. And even if you don’t see them, you know, because one of Houcine’s girls always gives a signal. We never take off running. We hide first, behind a car or a garbage can. To the outside observer, it must look pretty funny. All of us crouched down, asses squeezed in the djellabas clinging to us. Just our heads poking out. Since there are several of us, heads peak out from everywhere, like the flowers in the bouquets of old Haj, the market florist.
Then, we wait to see what will happen. Because it’s not always us they come for. But when they approach, we’re all ready to scamper off in the same direction: our building. At the street corner, before turning left, we all stop underneath the neighborhood tree. Most of the time, it ends in a sprint, and then our heads don’t look like flowers in a bouquet anymore. They’re more like those decorative plastic dogs you put in cars’ rear windows. Bobbing right to left, like they’re on springs. Because while we run, we check to see whether the cops are following us. Sometimes, even at that stage, it’s a false alarm. And then we all return to our places and relight our cigarettes.
Usually, I’m on my spot on the stairs with Samira, Rabia, and Fouzia. They’re the girls who are always with me. That bitch Hajar and her girlfriend—who’s just as much of a cunt—stand on the other side of the street, facing the market. During times of truce, we let them sit next to us. But most of the time, they stand opposite.
And then, we wait. For men to pass so we can put ideas in their heads. When they’re near us, we sigh. That way, if they want, they stop, they get out of their cars and they say something like, “Have we met, beautiful?” Well, to be honest, they rarely get out of their cars. However, when they walk by on foot, we never miss them. They act like they’re just passing through but it’s a load of bullshit. They come for us and we know it.
Sunday is the best day of the week, better than Saturday night, better than Friday night, better than any other day. The men who’ve had difficult weeks come to see us. They spend the afternoon in one of the local bars, and when they leave, around four or five o’clock, after several Storks or Spéciales, life seems good. They have just one desire: to make the pleasure and the oblivion last. And they do it inside us. It doesn’t last long, but it’s something.
So when they pass by in the street, they say, “Do we know each other, beautiful?” Then, you negotiate. Not for long, because they know our rates. I get a thousand to a thousand six hundred rials a pop.
I never extend credit, not like that slut Hajar, who undercuts the market. When you’re done negotiating, you walk past the guy for a few yards, and he follows you. As you go, you look back every now and then to make sure he’s still there and to keep his interest piqued.
When a man follows me and I’m concentrating on how I move, I can feel the pressure of his hard-on between my butt cheeks. I show them that I want them because in general, men like that. And we like when they’re happy because then they pay without making a fuss.
And I know what I’m talking about. I’ve been in this profession for nearly fifteen years now.
Today, I’m feeling chatty. But normally I don’t go into the details. I simply say that my name is Jmiaa, that I’m thirty-four years old, that I have a daughter, and that to live, I use what I’ve got.


★ 07/20/2020
Moroccan writer Alaoui’s mesmerizing debut introduces the resourceful, foul-mouthed, and spirited Jmiaa Bent Larbi. In the mid 1990s, Jmiaa’s husband, Hamid, takes her to Casablanca to pimp her out to men to raise money for his many fruitless business schemes. Almost 15 years later, 34-year-old Jmiaa is still working as a prostitute to support herself, her seven-year-old daughter, Samia, and the parasitic Hamid, who has illegally migrated to Spain. After Jmiaa meets Chadlia, a Moroccan Dutch film director she nicknames “Horse Mouth” for his toothy grin, Jmiaa agrees to consult on a script Horse Mouth plans to shoot in Morocco. Many remarkable characters people the novel in addition to Jmiaa: Halima, a sullen, Quran-studying prostitute; Samira, a loyal friend and colleague of Jmiaa’s; Houcine, the intimidating pimp who keeps them all safe; Jmiaa’s mother, with whom Jmiaa leaves her daughter; and the clients who come and go. Jmiaa’s Casablanca is full of corrupt cops and exploitative men who take advantage of the prostitutes’ vulnerability, but it is also full of friendship, laughter, and triumph, as Jmiaa’s association with Horse Mouth leads her to dream of a new life as a film star. Alaoui’s shimmering prose is funny and original; one of Jmiaa’s neighbors looks like an “armoire”; a client has “the breath of a corpse”; and Jmiaa, noting Horse Mouth’s Arabic is unusually fluent for an immigrant, says, “Normally it’s like their tongue is in physical therapy: it needs crutches to get to the end of a phrase.” Alaoui’s tale is one to savor for its language and its verve. (Sept.)
Publishers Weekly

A whirlwind story and a lot of fun to read.” —BuzzFeed News, New Fall Books You Won’t Want To Put Down

“[A] mesmerizing debut…Alaoui’s shimmering prose is funny and original…[Her] tale is one to savor for its language and its verve.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Bold and irreverent…A refreshing character study.” —Kirkus Reviews

“[A] lively debut novel…funny and profane, rich with the sights and sounds of Casablanca.” —Shelf Awareness

“Unique and refreshing, this debut centers modern Moroccan sex worker Jmiaa as she manages family, friendship, and faith with courage, humor, and candor.” —Ms. Magazine

“Jmiaa’s cheek is immediately endearing, as is her dark humor that hides a sordid reality…[Alaoui] 

brings together cinema and the street, two starkly opposed worlds. The film sets, where Jmiaa is like a bull in a china shop, offer moments of pure jubilation.” —France-Amérique

“This book is so good. It carries you so quickly from despair to roaring laughter and back again. I would happily live in any world Alaoui would like to create for us.” —Daisy Johnson, author of Sisters

“Female friendship, anger, and artistic courage are explored with wit in Alaoui’s bold debut. Jmiaa is a woman living in the toughest of conditions but her inability to be anything but her unvarnished and sharp self steers her to surprising new worlds. A vibrant story of resilience told with refreshing honesty.” —Marjan Kamali, author of The Stationery Shop and Together Tea

“A powerful, original novel…one of the best I’ve read recently and one that will get people talking.” —Tahar Ben Jelloun, author of This Blinding Absence of Light

“The story of a lively young woman, who is funny and courageous, at the heart of a world we don’t often see explored in literature, where Meryem Alaoui deftly leads us.” —Le Point

“Following Leïla Slimani’s Paroles d’honneur, another young Moroccan woman, Meryem Alaoui, looks at a rarely seen side of the society that oppresses women in Morocco. Through the diary of a prostitute in Casablanca, the young author reveals the fragility and the harshness of life for those who are sacrificed, ostracized, left in the shadows.” —LireFrom the Publisher

Moroccan author Alaoui’s debut offers a glimpse into the daily pleasures, frustrations, and even dull moments in the life of a working-class woman in Morocco.
Thirty-four-year-old Jmiaa Bent Larbi has been making a living as a sex worker in Casablanca for nearly 15 years. Ever since her abusive ex-husband, Hamid, abruptly immigrated to Spain, she has been steadily courting clients outside the local market to support herself and her daughter, Samia. Jmiaa works alongside several other women who live in her building, and together they spend evenings drinking, chatting, and arguing as they wait for men to pass by. Jmiaa is unashamed of her life; she's proud of her knowledge about the profession and her ability to provide for her family. “I’m only explaining the bare minimum to her,” she asserts when asked to help a new recruit. “It took me years to learn what I know; I’m not about to give everything away.” Still, when Chadlia—a young filmmaker Jmiaa calls “Horse Mouth” because of her toothy smile—presents her with an exciting opportunity, Jmiaa jumps on board, and over the next three years, her life changes in ways she never could have imagined. Alaoui depicts Jmiaa’s character with humanity and grace. While certainly not avoiding sex, Alaoui makes the noteworthy choice of decentering this element of Jmiaa’s life. Instead, by digging into her difficult relationship with her mother, the fierce loyalty of her cherished friend Samira, and her fish-out-of water experience working with Chadlia, Alaoui emphasizes that Jmiaa’s work with clients is simply one part of her story. Throughout, Jmiaa’s narration adds levity and showcases her bold and irreverent nature. At the same time, it is her fiery independence that makes the later chapters—centered on her work in film—feel disingenuous. Following a typical savior narrative, Chadlia swoops in with funding to offer the possibility of a more socially acceptable, glamorous life, and thus the story begins to plunge into the tired trope of the American dream.
A refreshing character study loses steam in a worn-out plot.Kirkus Reviews

About the author:
Meryem Alaoui was born and raised in Morocco, where she managed an independent media group that combined publications in French (TelQuel) and Arabic (Nichane). Straight from the Horse’s Mouth, her debut novel, was first published in France, where it has achieved great critical acclaim. After several years in New York, Alaoui now lives in Morocco.