The Sand child by Tahar Ben Jelloun

The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun

Morrocan fiction

Original title – L’Enfant de Sable

Translator – Alan Sheridan

Source – Personal copy

Well, I move to North Africa and an older modern classic from that country that has been sat on the shelves for a while to read. The last book I reviewed from Morroco had a link to this writer as it was also set in the Tazamamart prison which featured also in Ben Jelloun’s best-known book This blinding absence of light. He is often mentioned as a future Nobel winner he has written in French although Arabic is his first language. He has written twenty or more novels and has won a number of big book prizes over the years including the Prix Goncourt.

The father had had no luck. He was convinced that some distant, heavy curse weighed on his life; out of seven births, he had seven daughters, the mother, aunt Ayshaa, and Malika, the old servan woman. The curse was spread over tim. The father thought that one daughter would have been enough. Seven was too many; tragic, even. How often he remembered the story of the Arabs before the advent of Islan wo buried their daughter alive! Since he could not get tid of them, he treated them not with hate but indifference.

Hajji has had a run of daughter so when he has had seven that is enough he makes a plan for number 8

The book starts with Hajji telling of the fact that he had seven daughters to his wife and no matter what his next baby was going to be a Son no matter what happened. So he knew his money would pass through the family as the daughter in Islamic law at the time is only able to get a third of the estate from the Father. Which his brothers knew and had pointed out that they would end up with his money if he hadn’t given birth to a son. So when they are expecting an eighth baby he decides no matter what the babe will be a boy and passes on so much to the elderly midwife Lalla his plan to make even a daughter into a son Lalla ios elderly and sees the benefit of the idea. So when his wife finally gives birth and it is a daughter the secret of that is known by just two people Hajji and the midwife. as the child, who is called Mohamed Ahmed grows they talk about having their chest tied up which is to stop her breast from developing. HE is married to a sickly daughter of a relative the story is told in the form of a storyteller and the young Mohamed writing to a friend but what will happen will Mohamed gather she is actually a woman? there are telltale hints here and there throughout the book and how the father always seemed to have the answer then later are storyteller end up blind and this is a nod to Borges of course.

The truth goes intoo exile. I have only to speak and the truth moves away, is forgotten; I become its gravedigger and disniterer. That is how the voice is: it does not betray me. And even if I wanted to betray it, reveal it in all its nakedness, I could not. I would knt know how. I know its requirement: avoid anger, avoid tenderness, do not shoutm do not whisper- in short, be ordinary. I am ordinary. And I trample underfoot the image that is unbearable to me. God, how heavy that truth wieghs upon me! I am the afchitect and the house, the tree and the sap, a man and a woman. No detail must disturb the harshness of my task, whether from the outside or from the bottom of the grave. Not even blood.

Later his decison wieghs heavy on him and this is just as the  young Mohamed has her first period !

I have the absence of blinding light by him as well but this one jumped out of me as the story seemed one I would enjoy the tale of a down on his luck husband that keeps wish for a son to only have daughters then he decides to sacrifice his youngest and let her grow up a boy in this age of people being able to be more gender fluid this tale of a deliberate swapping of gender seems horrific as it highlights the pain the child had to undertake to be passed as a boy. But also shows how religion can affect people it also highlights the prevailing system at the time in Morroco run by its elderly King. The novel uses the storyteller to tell the story within the story of the book it has nods later on towards Borges not only with the story becoming blind but also when later on the book its has a few Magic realism and Borges touches to the story. This book can easily be read in a day as it is under two hundred pages and each chapter moves the story as we move through various gates. Have you read any books from Tahar Ben Jelloun?

A woman’s story by Annie Ernaux

A-Womans-Story

A Woman’s story by Annie Ernaux

French fiction

Original title – Une Femme

Translator – Tanya Leslie

Source – Review copy

Sometimes you get set a book like this one ,I was asked if I wanted to review this one and said yes ,half and half wherever it would be one for me ,but I always feel a few more female writers in translation on the blog is a welcome thing and also a surprise gem is great  ,which this book was .Annie Ernaux ,started writing in the mid seventies ,but really hit her stride in the mid eighties with the book La Place ,which won the Prix Renaudot in 1984 ,this book saw the writer turn the light on herself (and we thought Knausgaard was new ) .This is very much a book in the French Auto fiction style ,with the writers life as material for their  fiction .

It’s a difficult undertaking .For me , my mother has no history .She has always been there .When I speak of her , my first impulse is to “freeze ” her in a series of images unrelated to time – “she had a violent temper ”

As annie starts to unpick her mothers past and her own childhood ,

A woman’s story is the story of a mother and daughter ,Annie Ernaux is the daughter and the book starts as she leaves the home here mother was lived into until she dies .As Annie starts to process her mother’s death over the days and weeks that pass she tell us her story and her mother’s story .Her mother had lived most of her life in the same village never moving far from there .Her daughter couldn’t at the time understand this but now looking back now see her mother was more than the sum of the part she saw and knew .It’s a heartfelt story of how we try to not be our parents and maybe hate what they are but in the end they are more than they seem .

After a while , she grew accustomed to her lifestyle , channelling her energy and her enthusiasm towards looking after her grandsons and helping to clean the house .She wanted to relieve me of all the household chores .

In later life she doted on her grand-kids.

This book is a perfect example of what simple writing can do well and that is drag you into a world ,there are no fireworks of style or over the top description .Because it didn’t need it this is like an unplugged session in music the writing stripped to the simplest style as the clarity of the narrative draws you as the reader in .This is the book equivalent of Bon iver or Laura Veirs confessional heart wrenching stuff .Annie Ernaux Talks about her in this book Giving birth to her mother and she does ,she makes her mother leap of the page ,this women from a large family the same as her father ,married but stayed in the same village ,but after her marriage with her husband built a business ,this maybe effect her childhood ,but now looking back the daughter can see how much more her mother working and giving her a great start ,that she didn’t see at the time ,then the doting grandmother and the end of her life .This reminded  me in some ways of Stones in a landslide ,my favourite book from Peirene press as it did what that did so well as well and that is bring a life to life  on the page ,but not in a huge tomb ala Proust or Knausgaard .Well done to Quartet for bring this back out lost gems like this need to be kept alive in print .

Have you read this book ?

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