Stolen Lives

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How can the government plead a lack of means—here they distribute electricity so generously without payment? Both Oufkir and El Ouadie's books were published in the last years of King Hassan II's reign, their publication presumably tolerated because Oufkir's book was shielded by its French publication venue and El Ouadie's perhaps slipped through by virtue of its unusual format and sly humor.

Both publications were literary harbingers of the current Moroccan regime's attempts to confront past human rights abuses and indemnify victims of the regime. Morocco's quest for documentation about the past, for the actual bodies of the "disappeared" and for the names of the torturers is an elaborate and frustrating process, filled with confusion and moral complexity.

It is, alas, not amenable to the heart-to-heart discussion between a repentent king and his victims that Oprah imagines when she asks Oufkir, "When you were released he [King Hassan II] was still alive.

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Did you want to say something to him? Was there something you wanted to say?

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Maybe I think I told him everything I want to tell him through the book. The first thing—the most important thing—it's to tell him the truth, because nobody in his life was allowed to tell him really who he was. And the second thing maybe the only question, why?


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Lacking formal written proofs for their lost imprisoned youth, Malika Oufkir and Salah El Ouadie among others, have instead authored their own condemnations as core texts around which to build a new national literary history and communal identity. Must this new literary history, part of a necessary process for countries emerging from the twin burdens of foreign colonialism and indigenous repression, find its validation in translation? Do books by Malika Oufkir and Salah El Ouadie as well as those by Abdellatif Laabi and Abdelaziz Mouride exemplify what literary critic Jenine Abboushi has termed "writing for translation," with the Arabic novel as an extreme case of the "centripetal process" in which "the Western reader stays put and many Third World writers are the ones who are making the crossing"?

These questions have immediate personal relevance. As a translator of El Ouadie's work, am I merely promoting a variant on the theme of Arab-Islamic brutality or may I claim to present edifying literary examples of human rights discourse that transcends national boundaries? After all, there is another history that should be presented to the public: the four decades of U. It would certainly be a challenge for Hollywood to match the chapter of that history that is currently roiling both French and Moroccan newspapers. On October 29, , Mehdi Ben Barka, Morocco's exiled charismatic opposition leader, was kidnapped in front of the Brasserie Lipp in Paris, an operation that apparently involved the complicity of the French authorities, assorted French gangsters, the French and Moroccan secret services, Israel's Mossad, and the CIA—a lethal but appropriate cocktail of operatives representing the governments most committed to upholding King Hassan II's authoritarian regime.

In post Morocco, an unusual conjunction of circumstances has emerged that links authors, writing, political detention, and torture: the guilt of many political prisoners was determined exclusively on their imaginative and political writings; a great deal of torture was applied to elicit written confessions; and finally, a large body of writing was produced during decades of incarceration and continues to emerge as those prisoners presumed "disappeared" forever have come back home alive to represent and recreate a vibrant intellectual and literary community.

Once Moroccan dissidents, like their Eastern European counterparts under the Soviet Union, were forced to publish abroad and for Western audiences—a literary climate in which translation precedes and supersedes the original work, and one in which literature is too easily detached from or reduced to politics and social dialogue.

Stolen lives twenty years in a desert jail

Only recently have Moroccans been able buy these works and incorporate them into the cultural memory of a renewed civil society. Here, for the moment, translators are relegated to their customary subservient role, expanding and amplifying the reach of bestsellers from the Arab-Islamic world. In such a climate, one might glimpse the possibility of a genuine literary and political exchange across the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic.

In a season of renewed "strategic" interest in the Middle East and North Africa, perhaps Oprah's spotlight on Malika Oufkir's book brings us a step closer to such an exchange.

Stolen Lives

I am grateful to Donna Lee Bowen who encouraged me to complete the translation. After serving a three month reduced sentence, Boukhar was released in mid-November , thereby missing his rendezvous with a French judge appointed to revisit the case. You might have noticed the absence of paywalls at Boston Review. We are committed to staying free for all our readers. Now we are going one step further to become completely ad-free. This means you will always be able to read us without roadblocks or barriers to entry.

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