The Curious Case Of Dassoukine's Trousers

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

The first book in English by Morocco’s most prominent writer, Fouad Laroui, THE CURIOUS CASE OF DASSOUKINE’S TROUSERS is a collection of linked comic tales whose common theme is dislocation. Considering Laroui’s background, it’s not hard to understand why he has such a perspective on life: he studied in Morocco and Paris, got a PhD in English in the UK, and now teaches Econometrics at the University of Amsterdam. He writes fiction in French, poetry in Dutch, academic and non-fiction work in English.

The titular story in the collection shows the author at his best. The narrator, a low-level Moroccan bureaucrat, is sent by his government to Brussels to buy wheat from the EU in order to prevent starvation at home. On arrival in Brussels, he is taken for a waiter at an EU reception. His dismay is compounded later that night when a thief breaks into his hotel room and steals his one pair of trousers. The concierge tries to help him, but the only trousers he can find that will fit him (he’s quite tall) are a pair of golf trousers from a used-clothing shop.

When the Moroccan shows up at the EU meeting in those loud, checked pants, the officials treat him suspiciously. “Am I really myself? Or a clown imposter? Or a lackey with a big head?” he asks himself. But when an Englishman demands to see his identity card, the narrator “plays out a great scene of Third World indignation in the face of Western arrogance.” His ploy works well: not only does he get his wheat but he gets it for nothing!

“They remembered, quite pertinently, that there was an emergency stock for desperate cases, like for Somalia, Chad and other countries where the ministers dress in rags. Pounds of grain for free!”
When he returns home he is treated like a conquering hero–“the man who saved his country a hundred thousand Euros!” He accepts the plaudits, of course, but whispers to himself “it’s really my trousers they should be honoring.”

The same kind of edgy satire can be found in the other eight stories in the book, all of which are notable for their wisdom and compassion. (Translated by Emma Ramadan, published by Deep Vellum with an introduction by Laila Lalami)