Alentejo Review

Nell Freudenberger reviews Monica Ali’s Alentejo Blue for The Nation:

If Brick Lane belonged stylistically to the nineteenth century, the new book jumps forward in time. Modernist in form (the epigraph is from T.S. Eliot’s “Ash-Wednesday”), it explores the decidedly twenty-first-century obsession with what is foreign and what is local, and how the mysterious category of the “global” might break down that distinction.

Alentejo Blue takes place almost entirely in Mamarrosa, a village in Portugal’s south-central Alentejo region, known for its cork and olive trees. The village is either impossibly backward or heartbreakingly picturesque, depending on which character is observing it. The nine narrators include three natives of Mamarrosa, three expatriates and three tourists. All of the chapters are written in the third person (except for two); each character has his or her own chapter (except for one young couple, who share).

Freudenberger finds that reading the novel is a “little like hitchhiking through unfamiliar countryside: You become so involved in the driver’s story that you’re surprised each time one of the characters stops to let you off.”

Meanwhile, the filming of Ali’s first novel, Brick Lane, had to be moved outside the neighborhood itself, due to protests from goons who revendicate “the freedom to burn books.” Some freedom.