Watch us Dance by Leila Slimani

This is the first of Slimani’s books that I have managed to finish. I have tried most of them but they usually end up in the ‘DNF’ pile. I am never really sure why or what it is that I don’t like about them. This one, however, was different.

It is the second in a trilogy but can be read as a stand alone, as I did, and is Slimani drawing on her life to tell the story of a family living through the 60s and early 70s in a country, a time known as the ‘Years of Lead’ when Hassan II ruled and was known for repression of dissidents and activists. It was also a time when the country see-sawed between the traditional and modern and the changes this brought about for its people. Because, this is the story of how a time in history affected one family.

Mathilde and Amine have a farm which they have worked hard at to develop and are now successful, so successful that they are having a swimming pool built even though Amine thinks it draws attention to the family and their wealth. Their children, Aicha and Selim, mix in different circles that are not so traditional with Aicha training to be a doctor and her brother Selim taking off with the hippies and ending up in America.

The women are particularly well-depicted from Selma the consort who abdicates responsibility for her daughter to Mathilde who feels as if all she has done is cook and clean with no one noticing what she does. All this takes place in a time of sexual freedom but the telling is slightly distanced being told in the third person and concentrating on events rather than any internal dialogue of the characters. The story jumps around from character to character and I was left wondering what happened to Selim. He disappeared out of the story to end up in America but with no detail about how or why this happened and it left me wanting to know more.

The men do not come out of this story well. Amine has affairs and thinks his wife does nothing to support the famil, Mourad becomes someone who ‘cleans up’ the streets before the King travels and can not stand anything to do with women and their blood, Selim sleeps with his Aunt and the farm workers are kept in poverty. It is all quite simplistic.

The place, the heat, the dirt, the dust are all included and at times you are almost there with the characters.

At the end of the day the sky turned orange and mauve. The sea grew calm, ready to swallow the sun. The waves no longer crashed onto the beach but died softly, in near silence, stroking the sand like the hem of a silk dress. Dusk was a magic spell, enchanting the elements and the population alike.


I still don’t know what is so special about this writing and so have not yet joined the legions of fans but I did finish it.

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