Lakhdar grows up in Tanger, with his friend Bassam. There is not much to do, but they dream of a future with girls and freedom, possibly in France or Spain.
He has a fight with his parents and leaves home and he meets sheik Nourdin, who gives him a position as a bookseller at the mosque.
Lakhdar does not pay attention to what is going on at the mosque or in the rest of the Arab world (it is the time of the Arab Spring), he has his Spanish and French detectives and enjoyes the beautiful language of the Koran.
He meets the Spanish student Judit, who studies Arabic languages and for a moment, it seems Lakhdar has a good future ahead of him.
But then there is a bombing, sheik Nourdin and Bassam are gone and the mosque goes up in flames.
Lakhdar tries to travel to Europe, but fate is not very kind to him. He finally ends up in the Carrer Robardos, de street of thieves in Barcelona. Here he finds some kind of home amongst the drunk, the junkies and the illegal immigrants. Only then he meets sheik Nourdin and Bassam again, and he fears for what they might be planning.
Mathias Énard is a French writer who lives in Barcelona. He studied Arabic and Persian languages and you can feel his love for these languages and their stories in this book.
I loved Street of thieves. It is almost a fairytale with lots of colourful characters and situations, with an anti-hero who does not really know what he is doing. He tries to act tough, but his heart is in the right place and he knows what is right and what is wrong.
The story is set in a specific time, in a changing Arabic world. Several newsfacts are mentioned, like the shooting of Osama bin Laden, the shooting at the Jewish school in Toulouse or the fact that the major of Rotterdam is of Moroccan descent.
Lakhdar does not have somebody who tells him what to think to what to do, he must find out for himself. His books, his detectives and the story of Casanova form a counterweight for the growing fundamentalism he sees around him and it becomes clear to him what is important and what is not.
His journey from Tanger to Barcelona is not just a journey to a better life, but also a journey into adulthood, with finding love, and betrayal, the importance of family and friendship, coming to terms with death and disillusion.
I always like it when a book is nuanced and there are different shades of good and bad. Here for example sheik Nourdin may have planted a bomb, but he is not a monster, and he was good to Lakhdar. The other people Lakhdar meets also have their good and their bad sides. Some abuse him or take advantage of him, but that does not mean they do not help him at the same time.
You grow to love Lakhdar a little and you hope for a good ending for him. That means the real ending will break your heart, especially as something happened I did not expect at all.
Mathias Énard manages to write about meaningful themes and mixes humour with very sad situations, and he does this very well. Street of thieves is a wonderful book and well worth your time.
Original French title: Rue des Voleurs
Published in 2012