Discussed in This Review
A full half year ago now, I found myself dropped lightly and very unceremoniously in another part of the world. I saw my new city from the iced-over plane window: orange and terracotta browns in a circle of antiquity. It was straight out of my fantasies, the city I romantically imagined as the place where I would find my piece of bliss. A long taxi cab ride up an old hill to the painting-worthy house I’d be starting a life in, and I found myself distracted by the disgusting taxi cab fare. I emptied my pockets of the colorful paper money I had just begun to realize held value. This wasn’t home. But it actually was.
Months went by, I became accustomed to the way Cyprus trees resemble umbrellas, the way hot water found ways of escaping its duties, and how the sun dug deeper into my skin than usual. I found the street names hidden scratched and coded on sides of ancient buildings, and realized buses refused to come in the rain, when it was most needed. I wondered at the bus stop, “Who likes the rain?”
Djelloul paints Algiers as a place filled with real, true people, but also as a place shrouded in dark mystery…
I like it only when it brings beautiful purple flowered vines that climb stone houses, when it gives the sun a perfumed hint, and when it lets the olives grow. I eventually found that Florence and its gorgeous Tuscan subtleties were becoming home to me. My senses were overwhelmed by this place, and wanted to remain this way. Yet, right when I discovered my absolute favorite Italian panino and grew accustomed to afternoon siestas, I was uprooted again, leaving this fantasy Renaissance haven for the place, the city, I was finally forgetting I loved. Isn’t this how it always works?
I had learned to be consumed by more than one place and now, back in NYC, back to the routine of crowded subways and parks and lecture halls, I am still consumed by two places, at the same time. I can dream in Italian and wake up wondering in English, love New York fall and daydream over Tuscan spring.
Reading Djelloul Marbrook’s first book, Far From Algiers, especially while experiencing a sort of dilemma over identity, has given me words to describe how one feels this dilemma deeply rooted, and how to live with the question, “Where do I belong?” Djelloul has had a life-long experience of feeling misplaced, feeling attached to and also haunted by different homes. Djelloul has a soul of duality, not of good and evil, but rather of here or there. The most important message I’ve learned from his poems is that, rather than spending life wondering which person you are, the person from this place or that, life is better spent understanding that you are a child and a mind of both places. You live as a person of many facets. Djelloul has fathered these understandings into his book from his own experiences. I read Djelloul’s words as ones of guidance for a soul often in transition. Yet, like Djelloul himself, his poems have many interpretations.
His poems also touch on culture and political issues. In “Far From Algiers,” he writes
Every simpleminded day
guards against kidnappers,
every complacency has its dey
fat on ransom in some Algiers.
Djelloul tells his reader of a land that many do not know well, of the people found there and the issues faced. He paints Algiers as a place filled with real, true people, but also as a place shrouded in dark mystery waiting to be unveiled to the rest of the world. In fact, Djelloul’s portrait of Algiers that is created throughout the book, and his personal struggles to find an intimate niche in its history, has inspired me to discover something about Algiers myself. While reading, I was captured by the Barbary Coast, the French influence in Algiers, the role of Djinn, and the life of a Bedouin. Through his intriguing images describing a place of many complexities and stories to share, and through his own life that sprouted from this place, Djelloul encourages, and almost entrances the reader to become a child of the world, with knowledge and fantasies of a bundle of countries, so that no person is solely rooted in one.
In Djelloul’s poem “The Memory of Sand,” he writes,
because her nature is to be Arabia
and certain configurations subject
His intriguing personification of the desert reminded me of National Geographic, and how awe-inspired I am while watching the program Planet Earth. The program shares its knowledge of the mysterious beauties of the world, and encourages viewers to get excited about the immense wonders of the planet we inhabit. Djelloul does this too; his words encourage us to look, to see his words as description of a land and its imprints on people. His words let us in, in hopes that we will take away from them a newfound sense of place.
Next time Planet Earth comes on to tell me about deserts, or I sit in a small studio apartment remembering how the wind moves the Arno river under its bridges, I will try and remember that I am a person of a few places, of a childhood in Connecticut, to early adulthood in NYC, to a half-year adventure in Italy.
Djelloul writes of needing escape in his poem “Escape Route,” and my favorite part of this poem, which appears near the end of the book, reads,
Here is my escape route:
a Moorish garden in al-Andalus
where an old man is watching
aspens write on walls.
Everyone should have a place, whether it is a region or a city that sparked attention on TV, or from a life once lived, that takes him out of his life led currently. Djelloul admits that feeling grounded in more than one place makes it contrarily feel like he is a stranger everywhere. Throughout his book, though, he creates a defining idea for himself, that he will never be a person of strictly one place – and this in turn, defines who he is. His discoveries assure readers that, they, too, are allowed to feel transient, for however difficult it is, it also keeps us sane.