Looking for Choukri
In every bookstore I went to in the capital of Rabat, I looked for Mohammed Choukri’s novels–I’m still missing some of his later work, and I wanted to be sure to buy some before leaving. But I always came up empty-handed. When I asked the booksellers, they said they were sold out of Choukri. I was so frustrated that I ended up asking for any copies, of any books, in any language, as long as the author was Choukri, and still the answer was no. Finally, at Kalila Wa Dimna on Avenue Mohamed V I managed to snag the last remaining copies of Choukri’s memoir of his tumultuous friendship with Paul Bowles and his account of Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams’ stay in Tangiers. At another bookstore, I found a special issue of Il Parait au Maroc devoted to Choukri’s life and work. It was strange; even though Choukri’s books sell briskly, no one seemed interested in stocking more copies. It couldn’t be a question of censorship. Just this week, for instance, Tel Quel magazine, on sale in newstands everywhere, had a special report on “secrets” of the last three Moroccan kings (the revelations were mostly financial in nature, concerning alleged misappopriation of state funds. Such revelations would have been unthinkable ten years ago.)
When I asked a few booksellers what seemed to pique people’s interest these days, they had a one-word answer: Tazmamart. King Hassan’s infamous geol, where he secretly kept dozens of political prisoners for nearly twenty years in revolting conditions, is the topic that moves the most copies. Any book, they say, whether non-fiction (like Ahmed Marzouki’s Cellule 10) or fiction (like Tahar Ben Jelloun’s IMPAC award-winning This Blinding Absence of Light) sold like hotcakes.
I finally came across Choukri’s novels on my last day here: At the airport in Casablanca, where one of the duty-free bookshops carried his classic For Bread Alone.