Now and Then

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Now and Then by Salah el Moncef comprises two short stories and two essays. In the first, “Benghazi,” we meet the Khaldoon family. Sisters Miriam and Zaynab are students at a local Italian school preparing for a visit from Mussolini. Both have been selected to represent the school, something their father finds abhorrent due to his lifelong loyalty to his Sufi beliefs. The events of the day and the complex family relations have affected Miriam’s life, and she is now struggling to overcome and move forward.

In the second story, “The Night Visitor,” we meet Pauline and Nausicaa, two friends invited to a weekend gathering in Brittany. They are introduced to Madani, a Berber calligrapher, who Nausciaa finds both repulsive and alluring. His presence is confusing and disturbing, but she has to admit he cooks delicious couscous. Then in the night, something happens that leaves Nausicaa even more discombobulated than before. And how does she deal with it? She rehashes the story to Pauline until Pauline finally suggests Nausicaa visit an Astrologist to gain some insight into the situation. But will that help her see that the problem may be more internal than external?

In the first essay, “A Bridge Too Near,” the author noticed a sign on the Pont des Arts, where lovers used to hang padlocks as a sign of their eternal love. The sign reads, “No human is an alien on earth,” leaving Moncef to mull over ideas of borderless nations and the ramifications of disconnectedness among people. And in “The Voice of Exile,” the author looks at a review of his previous work, The Offering, which introduced Tarqik, an exiled Tunisian poet in France. He is isolated from his guest country and its culture, but he also feels the same towards his compatriots and his own culture, forcing him to define his own sense of belonging while feeling adrift in the world.

I must confess that I would have preferred another short story instead of the essays. To me, the stories were what made this book unique. The author had such a mesmerizing writing style it felt as if he’d just pulled the curtains back to give me a peek into another world. Both stories left me wanting more. They were complex but told with a sense of vagueness, leaving me inhabiting their worlds long after I’d finished reading. That age-old saying, the eyes are the window to the soul, came to mind more than once as Moncef was able to bring his characters to life by looking deep within them. For example, the wife of the Tuareg nomad, who has only a brief encounter with Miriam in the first story, manages to live on in my mind even now. He is able to paint a beautiful picture with a few words, one which encompasses the past with tendrils that reach into each character’s present.

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Author Salah el Moncef
Star Count /5
Format Trade
Page Count 168 pages
Publisher Penelope Books
Publish Date 01-Feb-2023
ISBN 9798986210445 Buy this Book
Issue October 2022
Category Historical Fiction