Tahar Ben Jelloun’s The Last Friend
In 1966 the Moroccan intellectual Abdellatif Laabi launched a cultural revolution in the form of a magazine. A bilingual quarterly, Souffles (Breaths) featured the work of leading figures of the North African literary and political avant-garde, such as novelist Mohammed Khair-Eddine, poet Mostafa Nissaboury and leftist activist Abraham Serfaty. Before long, it became the principal reference for a homegrown progressive movement. In his role as editor, Laabi was the first to publish many of the region’s young writers. Among these was a 24-year-old poet and philosophy professor named Tahar Ben Jelloun, who made a stirring debut in the magazine in 1968 with “L’Aube des dalles” (The Dawn of Stones). In this haunting meditation on repression, Ben Jelloun courageously evoked the need to remember victims of disappearance and torture: “And this man, this man who never returned/a body/that was dissolved in sulfuric acid/a body/that was sunk in quicklime/what will/the wind tell erosion/what will/the sword tell the torn neck/when/it will be necessary to remember this man.” Because of poems like “L’Aube des dalles,” which directly addressed the deteriorating political situation, the Moroccan government banned Souffles in 1971.
For more on Ben Jelloun, his new book, and its place in contemporary Moroccan literature, read the full review here. (The article is freely available to non-subscribers.)