Books by Tahar Ben Jelloun

THE LAST FRIEND by Tahar Ben Jelloun
Released: Feb. 2, 2006

"A gentle, intelligent exercise in nihilism: Life, Jelloun seems to say with a pained smile, is hardly worth discussing."
In this consideration of the meaning of friendship, desertion and lies become an expression of loyalty. Read full book review >
ISLAM EXPLAINED by Tahar Ben Jelloun
Released: Oct. 10, 2002

"Ben Jelloun has chosen an Islam of harmony, tolerance, humility, and love of knowledge. Others have chosen a different interpretation. Ben Jelloun's seems a good one to teach your children."
"My Islam Explained" might be a more apt title for these gleanings from Islam that have inspired Ben Jelloun (The Blinding Absence of Light, 2002, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 2002

This semi-documentary novel from the Moroccan-born author of The Sacred Night (1989) and The Sand Child (1987) joins the long list of prison books descended from Dostoevsky's The House of the Dead. Narrator Salim, who is held for 20 years in one of the notorious underground desert concentration camps to which Moroccan despot Hassan II consigned his political enemies, survives and retains his sanity through a regimen of intensive meditation and prayer. The story's sensibility and emphases seem at times inalienably remote, but whenever Ben Jelloun focuses on Salim's (quite universal) imagined continuing relation with the world from which he has been in effect exiled, it exudes a very nearly Dostoevskyan concentration and power. Read full book review >
CORRUPTION by Tahar Ben Jelloun
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

A brief, intensely focused portrayal of moral and psychological dissolution, by the Prix Goncourtwinning Moroccanborn novelist (With Downcast Eyes, 1993, etc.). Ben Jelloun's protagonist Mourad, a 40-year-old husband and father who lives in Casablanca and works as Deputy Director of Planning at his country's Ministry of Development, narrates in an increasingly agitated present-tense his unhappy experiences as ``a simple, good-natured man stifled by integrity.'' Refusing to cut corners or relax his penny-pinching routines, Mourad initially scorns a pragmatic subordinate's wheel-greasing and bribe-taking, or a supervisor's assurance that such ``flexibility'' actually constitutes ``a parallel economy'' that everyone but Mourad takes for granted. Gradually, however, the pressures of his family's financial need and his greedy wife's contemptuous taunting push Mourad to compromise his principles. The immediate consequences are a self-indulgent ``escapade'' and a romantic fixation on his beautifuland principledwidowed cousin. Unable to resume his former ways, Mourad falls into physical illness and hallucination, and ever so slowly into acceptance of what he persuades himself is the norm. Ben Jelloun's spare, lucid prose concentrates quite effectively on his troubled protagonist's unravelling psyche (though the translation occasionally permits this meticulous straight-arrow to address us in unconvincingly slangy accents). Despite its narrative and thematic simplicity, Corruption aims high. It is prefaced by a heartfelt acknowledgement of and dedication to the embattled Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer (currently under house arrest in Jakarta). And its plot, theme, and setting inevitably recall the ingredients that were mixed to much more potent effect in the novel that seems to have inspired Ben Jelloun's, Camus's classic The Stranger. The story of Mourad's fall from rectitude into compromise isn't exactly the stuff of tragedy. It has a modest cautionary power, but its ``hero'' is in no way exceptionalnor is the working-out of his fate particularly compelling. Read full book review >
WITH DOWNCAST EYES by Tahar Ben Jelloun
Released: May 7, 1993

From North African and Goncourt Prize-winner Ben Jelloun (The Sacred Night; Silent Day in Tangier): a lyrical, often allegorical evocation of exile—``that long and interminable night of solitude''—that's interrupted by brusque intrusions of reality that don't quite jibe. When a young Moroccan girl is entrusted with a deathbed prophecy that she'll find the treasure that'll save her fellow Berbers, she assumes a psychic burden—which will shadow her life for years—and also becomes the focus of envy. Living in a village abandoned by the young, she takes care of the sheep and her baby brother; but her care is not enough to prevent a jealous aunt from poisoning the child—a tragedy that leads to her and her mother joining her father in the Arab quarter of Paris. The adjustment to a place where ``the sky was gray, the streets painted gray too'' is not easy, but the girl soon settles down—though she's troubled by dreams of her brother and the past; by the dissonance between memory and reality; and by the difficulty of defining home. She eventually goes on to college but finds her life being taken over by imaginary characters. At the urging of a famous North African writer, she begins to write about these fictional beings, but her disturbing dreams continue. Finally, in another visit to the village—almost hallucinatory in the way she finally fulfills the prophecy—she realizes ``that a country is more than earth and houses...that the discovery of roots is an ordeal,'' and that memories can't be written or willed away. Despite flights of fantasy that are too lush and too many: an affecting mood portrait of loss and the burden of memory. Read full book review >