The bleak reality behind Youssef Fadel’s blue bird

A Rare Blue Bird Flies with MeYoussef_Fadel_Interview is set in the very real world of a dark period in Morocco’s history—the 1970s. Yet there are many instances in the novel where reality seems blurred with the surreal and the imaginary.

Those who have survived the Moroccan prisons of Tazmamart, Agdez, and others, have written very disturbing accounts about their incarceration there. It’s an experience they carry in their soul and flesh. One can’t add anything to their testimony. What can those of us who have lived without worry, without even noticing that something terrible is happening in our country, add to these shattering accounts? As a writer, only the imaginary, that is the novel. It is another way to condemn such atrocities.

How would you describe your own detention in Morocco in 1974, when you were sentenced for a play you wrote, compared to the conditions endured by your protagonist Aziz in A Rare Blue Bird Flies with Me?

It was not as bad of course. What survivors of these prisons describe is beyond what a human being can endure or imagine. To disintegrate, have one’s flesh wither, little by little, during months, years, this has never been seen in Morocco, or perhaps anywhere else.

You use many metaphors in the novel, and in particular the bird. How much of it is about freedom and how much about escape?

Many people grow wings in their dreams. I have often dreamt of them. To glide over the city like a swallow, at night. I don’t know why it is always at night. These are more dreams than metaphors. Especially nowadays when everybody’s dream is to flee, die on migrant boats rather than continue to slowly deteriorate. In the novel, it has both meanings, freedom and escape.




Zina, the young wife of Aziz, is courageous, obstinate, and a fighter. Why bestow on her character so much hope?

She is a farmer, simple, honest, and naïve, uncorrupted by everything that epitomizes the city, selfishness, narcissism, and dishonesty, which is rare in today’s world.

You have written three novels set during Morocco’s ‘Years of Lead.’ How do you manage to write without bitterness or hate after spending time in the notorious Moulay Cherif prison?

I have made it my job, my daily bread. I am a craftsman. A weaver needs a lot of patience to weave his patterns. And if at times I give in to resentment and desperation, too bad for me. It’s a choice. But there is always happiness in bouncing back again, like coming out of sickness, and getting back on track.

How has Morocco changed over the past few decades?

There is more poverty, more indifference. And a completely corrupt elite seeking out its own wellbeing. Replacing the big lie with another, smaller, shrunk to fit. It’s another way to survive I suppose.

What author are you reading this summer?

Toni Morrison.



Posted on 11/08/2016 in FICTION General, FICTION Political, tagged as A Rare Blue Bird Flies with Me, Arabic fiction, Hoopoe Fiction, Middle East, Morocco, political fiction, world fiction, Youssef Fadel


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