Powerful novel of Moroccan boyhood

Messaouda, by Abdelhak Serhane. Translated by Mark Thompson. New York: Carcanet. 155 pp. $15.95. First published in France in 1983, this autobiographical novel is a poetic, disturbing, enlightening picture of a young Muslim boy's life in a small Arab town in Morocco in the 1950s.

``Messaouda'' is the first novel by Abdelhak Serhane, a professor of literature at Kenitra in Morocco. The story he tells - coming of age under the hand of a brutal father and a repressive society - is simple enough. The telling of the tale, however, is complex, exploring emotions, dreams, and nightmares in broken passages and bursts of lyrical images. ``Messaouda'' can be difficult to follow, and uncomfortable to read, but Serhane's voice is undeniably powerful.

Serhane charts the path of his childhood through a time when ``delicacy could not exist.'' Paralleling the young boy's personal struggles is the Moroccan struggle for independence from France.

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This book will certainly not be for everyone, particularly those who are put off by explicit violence and rough sexual imagery. But Carcanet has done a service in publishing this book in English translation. Serhane has opened a window on a landscape that is well worth trying to understand.

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