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Edith can hardly believe it when she learns that Fadila, her sixty-year-old housemaid, is completely illiterate. How can a person living in Paris in the third millennium possibly survive without knowing how to read or write? How does she catch a bus, or pay a bill, or withdraw money from the bank? Why it's unacceptable! She thus decides to become Fadila’s French teacher. But teaching something as complex as reading and writing to an adult is rather more challenging that she thought. Their lessons are short, difficult, and tiring. Yet, during these lessons, the oh-so-Parisian Edith and Fadila, an immigrant from Morocco, begin to understand one other as never before, and from this understanding will blossom a surprising and delightful friendship. Édith will enter into contact with a way of life utterly unfamiliar to her, one that is unforgiving at times, but joyful and dignified.
Translated by Alison Anderson (The Elegance of the Hedgehog, A Novel Bookstore, The Most Beautiful Book in the World)
we going out. Nasser asking me lend him 50 euros. Zora is no worry, she going sleeping. I no can sleep, is hurting (she points to her stomach), is heart beating (her breast), I walking walking in the house, I waiting. At two o’clock I waking up big son Younes, I tell him he get dressed. He coming with me to bar in the street. Is boss he close at ten o’clock but after is keeping customers inside, everyone they drinking, is music, with Younes we listening, can hear the music: that is where they is.
taking the plane after all. They never brought her her ticket. The grandson who made the reservation has left Paris. Her daughters are in Morocco. She’s out three hundred euros. She has just made an arrangement with “is one man Aïcha she know” who will give her a lift in his car. She will be leaving in two days’ time. And of course she will have to pay for this trip by car. 28 When Édith next sees Fadila, in early September, she finds her pale with rage. “I so mad,” she says, over and over.
words: to humiliate Zora, his wife, is one thing. But to humiliate her son Nasser, that’s unforgivable. 31 The landlord came and knocked at her door one evening. Fadila told him she would soon be going back to Morocco. “Before you leave,” says Édith worriedly, “you have to ask about your retirement.” Fadila knows. Her daughter-in-law has expressed her concern about it, too. She goes to see a social worker, who does some rapid calculations and warns her: her retirement pay will be very
doing, I never asking for money.” “I thought your daughter-in-law liked you?” Fadila doesn’t think so: “She no say nothing but she never looking in the eye. After she go talking my son.” She sits with her hands between her knees. There are days when the work can just wait a while. It wasn’t her idea, after all, to move into this hostel in Pantin. She didn’t even know it existed. She wasn’t the one who went to find out whether she could get in and how to apply. After her son first mentioned
take care of papers, how to fold them properly, or better still, how to protect them in a sleeve, or a rigid folder, in other words how to be respectful of the written object, even in its loose-leaf form. Isn’t it paradoxical, thinks Édith, to want to keep everything written that comes your way, because you know it might be important, then you go and treat it as if you didn’t care at all? So she buys a big notebook and explains to Fadila that from now on they will use one page after the other,