Watch Us Dance

Leila Slimani, Sam Taylor (trans.)

Watch Us Dance
Faber & Faber
United Kingdom
3 October 2023

Watch Us Dance

Leila Slimani, Sam Taylor (trans.)

As she stands at the window, the spring sunshine streaming in, Mathilde reflects on the opportunities before her: it’s April 1968 and Morocco is changing. Looking out at her garden, the roses - brought in from Marrakech - have bloomed and their sweet, fresh scent pervades the garden. The world is opening up and anything feels possible. Work on the pool has just begun and she imagines diving in to cool off from the summer’s baking heat.

Indecency. That’s her husband’s word for it, the flagrant display of their glittering success, on show for their labourers to wonder at. But Mathilde has prevailed. Times have changed, and she is determined to celebrate it.

Only Mathilde is blissfully unaware of the consequences for her family, her country and its future. Her babies are now grown up, and they are all about to learn how life can take wild and unexpected turns.


This book deserves your full attention, so don’t even bother picking it up if you don’t have a few quiet hours ahead of you, perhaps curled up in a big snuggly armchair with a cuppa or a glass of pinot. To fully appreciate the exquisite writing all other distractions must be removed. Put the dog and the cat and the children outside and close the blinds. And now, let me introduce you to Mathilde Belhaj and her dysfunctional family, and their dysfunctional country.

Alsatian by birth, but Moroccan by marriage, Mathilde has always been regarded as an outsider. After years of hard work, she and her husband, Amine, are now wealthy landowners: ‘He thinks she does all of this out of love and she wants to yell at him: “What you call love is actually work!”’ The Kingdom of Morocco has regained its independence from France and Spain, and its people would like to be cautiously optimistic about the future. Unfortunately, poverty, corruption and a king who believes it is better for his subjects to be illiterate than for any of them to become ‘intellectuals’ make any form of optimism difficult to maintain. Mathilde’s daughter has left home to study medicine, and her son has run away with a group of Westerners – the dreaded hippies. It is the 1960s after all.

With an Allende-like brushstroke, Leïla Slimani paints a remarkable portrait of a people and place I knew nothing about before I read this book. This family drama, set in dramatic times, at once feels epic in scope, but also intricate in detail, each character explored in depth, as well as the world around them: ‘Since it had become the theatre of his heartbreak, he had begun to like this city. He walked his melancholy through it …’ Watch Us Dance is a book to make you think, to be savoured, and to be returned to again.

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