By Youssef Fadel
In 1980s Casablanca, Farah arrives from her small town life with big dreams: she wants to sing. She…Read more
The New Yorker contributor Nicolas Niarchos hooked up with Hoopoe author Youssef Fadel last summer in his hometown of Casablanca. “I met with Fadel, who is in his late sixties, and his wife, Safia, a teacher… He wore a white fedora and a wide smile… We walked over to a hotel lobby near the rail station, where Fadel told me about falling in with a leftist crowd during his youth.”
In his recently published article, Niarchos takes a look at Fadel’s Moroccan trilogy, A Beautiful White Cat Walks with Me, (Hoopoe, 2016) A Rare Blue Bird Flies with Me (Hoopoe, 2016), and A Shimmering Red Fish Swims with Me (forthcoming).
“Near the beginning of A Rare Blue Bird Flies with Me, the second novel in Youssef Fadel’s trilogy about nineteen-eighties Morocco, the heroine, Zina, takes a bus, at night, to go searching for her husband, Aziz. He has been missing for seventeen years. “It’s dark outside and inside the bus,” Zina thinks, in Jonathan Smolin’s translation, which was published in 2016. “I see shadows moving in the aisle between the rows of seats and from time to time I hear the muttering of a passenger dreaming. The travelers are sleeping, certain that their trip isn’t so important as to be the first or the last, relaxed in the knowledge they’re just coming from one place and heading to another.”
The scene is typical Fadel, full of darkness and longing, and driven by a character moving through a penumbral, uncomprehending world. Zina hardly knew Aziz before they were married, and he was arrested on their wedding night; he has been locked away in a secret prison. Aziz, we learn, is a pilot who has been accused of helping to plot a coup against Morocco’s King, Hassan II. He languishes in an ancient casbah that has been transformed into a dank jail. The setting recalls an actual casbah, in the Atlas Mountains, where political dissidents were held during the nineteen-seventies and eighties. Fadel’s novels remind us how the evil of state repression and the humdrum lives of people on a bus are linked—even rely on each other to exist.
Posted on 13/03/2018 in FICTION General, FICTION Historical, FICTION Political, tagged as Alexander E. Elinson, Arabic Booker, Arabic fiction, Hoopoe, Hoopoe Fiction, International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Jonathan Smolin, Morocco, Nicolas Niarchos, the New Yorker, translation, Youssef Fadel