What you give, Momo, is yours for good. What you keep is lost forever.
The unlamented heroes lie at the pit of skin-deep, soft veins running the complicated bodies of everyday mortals. Either this or the other way around, depending on the goggles we choose to wear to look through the very hourglass that measures our greatness. Every now and then, I am caught off guard by the simplicity of a book that reads as if a life of its own were running its pages. It leaves me breathless, all raw, somehow bowing to the whimsical muses.
Mr Ibrahim and the flowers of the Qur'an by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is a book about the unexpected friendship between a 16-year-old Jewish boy, named Moses aka Momo and a 70-year-old Muslim shopkeeper. Even in the Paris of the 1960s, such a story of non-discrimination would be very unlikely to exist. Yet, real life is sometimes much too boring; instead, imagine having Brigitte Bardot coming to your little shop to buy a bottle of water. Rather than asking her for an autograph or taking a selfie with her at your back - thank God selfie sticks are a recent fad- Monsieur Ibrahim overcharges her for the water to make up for the little things Momo, the boy, has stolen from his shop. This is how the friendship is sealed and boy and old man start spending time together until the boy's father suddenly disappears and later on, is found dead. Momo's mother apparently preferred the other son, Popol, a very likeable character that not only won over the mother, but the father as well. Turns out excellent sons are merely a product of a sick imagination.
The Turkish Muslim and the French Jew embark on a journey to Anatolia to help Monsieur Ibrahim reunite with a long-lost friend. It is a time to celebrate his adoption by Monsieur Ibrahim and to be taught essential life lessons. Ce que tu gardes, c'est perdu a jamais! Even love, regardless of its shape and response, must be shared and never buried inside. For once, there is this male version of Cinderella and a godmother that is circumcised and appreciates the hookers. Drunk on parenthood, Monsieur Ibrahim helps Momo live a dream he is not supposed to, out of misery and loneliness into a world that reveals to be tolerant and beautiful. From the red-convertible car to the Dervish ceremony, down the Bosporus ferry and up the little village, where trees are hard to hit against, Momo comes to experience lively hours in the company of his new father and learns much more than any collection of books or the Koran itself could reveal.
It is a book meant to give a softer, kinder image of religious battles and discrimination, almost an idealized version of a harsher truth. It could be a light in a sea of despair or a much too naive manner of rhapsodizing a different, darker reality. I believe you can read it any way you like it- above all, it renders the idea that people can change perceptions and heal other people. Closeness, love, friendship are the medium through which human beings reach a higher level of acceptance and empathy. Contrary to what is expected, this book lacks melodrama and the humor of the story and the way the characters are sketched, make it a crafted tale.