Book review: Aya Dane

Image result for aya dane Mhani Alaoui lays bare the cliché of “forgotten memories” in her latest novel, Aya Dane (Interlink Books, 2018). Likewise, the perceptions of nostalgia and identity as imagined by an outsider also contribute to shifting memory into an isolated place. An implosion takes place which, for Aya Dane, starts unravelling when she received a letter from an art collector asking her to present him with one art work “that captures your essence”.

A spectrum of emotions unfolds throughout the book as Aya Dane, a Moroccan artist who lives alone in the attic of a Victorian house in the US, reveals the trauma of displacement and how she contains it through exclusion. In her interactions, there is a measure of detachment and lingering suspicion over motives, bringing to light her own family history’s unwarranted entanglement with violence and its psychological repercussions.

The family weaves a story of protection, while Aya isolates herself into her own thoughts without a sense of belonging. Her brother’s violence towards her is one of the turning points which prompt her family to agree to Aya’s adoption by a wealthy expat who promises to open doors for her future as an artist abroad.

While opportunities for Aya materialise, she further learns from her benefactor to seal herself against pain. “One must not play with doorways, must not open and peek inside, for it’s the edifice that’s shaken. That’s why I build walls, not doors. I build walls around me that have no doorway.” Read more.

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