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There is existential foreboding in Marguerite Duras’ “Abahan Sabina David.” Written in the 1970s, it was first translated into English in 2016 and published by Open Letter at the University of Rochester. Samuel Beckett’s style in “Waiting for Godot” comes to mind while reading this. It could easily be a play, and might be better as one.

Jewish persecution is facially at the heart of this ambiguous work which imagines a period after one state’s concentration camps followed by similar, but more individual, extermination by a communist state or organization. A Jew, Abahn, is being held by Sabana and David, a fallen communist, on orders of a presumed communist leader, Gringo, who intends to kill the Jew. The Jew is indifferent. His crime, if any, is questioning, although resentment of or competition to merchants might be a reason. David’s desire for Abahn’s dogs, who inhabit the surrounding forest, might be another. Persecution does not require a reason, only an excuse. They are joined by another Abahn, also a Jew, who questions the reasons for their involvement.  The Jews are likely used as a symbol of the universally persecuted.

The prose is sparse and cryptic. An example:

” Her gaze returns to the Jew.

‘This is the house of the Jew?’

‘Yes’

In the park, dogs bark and howl.

David turns his head, looks toward the park.

The howling dies down.

Its quiet again. David turns away from the park, back to the others.

‘You were sent by Gringo?'”

The New Yorker review says “Duras language and writing shine like crystals”

Translation by Kazim Ali must have been extremely difficult. This aside, I have no idea what this novel is about. For me it is not thought-provoking, just opaque. I read other reviews to see if I was being ignorant, but I found none that would explain what this work is about. This could be explained by existentialism, or the “new novel”, but in the end it left me empty. The good news- it was only 108 pages.

 

 

 

 

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