Living Things by Munir Hachemi (Translated from Spanish by Julia Sanches) - review by Sarah Moorhouse

Sarah Moorhouse

Summertime Sadness

Living Things

By

Fitzcarraldo Editions 120pp £10.99
 

Early on in Munir Hachemi’s Living Things, we are presented with an apparently universal statement: ‘experience, we all know, is the sine qua non for creating literature’. The narrator, Munir (he shares the author’s name), is fixated on this idea, and it’s the desire to gain this ‘volatile, hazy, ill-defined thing’ that propels him and three friends to the south of France one summer in search of work on the grape harvest. The group’s conviction that ‘experience’ can be obtained through travel is, the narrator tells us, wrapped up in the notion that travel promises not happiness but a ‘better life’ through ‘the optimization of a period of time that would have passed anyway’.

For the narrator, the desire to make the most of being young and the faith that travel can guarantee the fulfilment of this goal are distinctly contemporary – and capitalist – phenomena, but they also have currency across literature (think Kerouac’s On the Road). However, expecting to buy ‘experience’ for the price of a holiday can be naive; on arrival in France, the four characters learn that there is to be no grape harvest this year (climate change seems to be the cause, though this is never spelled out). Instead of picking grapes, they are given work on an industrial chicken farm. Their hopes of spending a relaxed yet formative summer abroad are dashed as they are exposed instead to the ugly underbelly of the globalised agricultural system. 

Hachemi has not invented this sequence of events: he and his friends really did work on a chicken farm for a summer. In an interview, he explained that the book arose out of a ‘shared project,’ whereby he and two of his friends each planned to write a text

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RLF - March