It would be hard to avoid the word "Kafkaesque" in describing this dreamlike and symbolic excursion into an institution that represents suffering humanity.
Originally published in French in 1990 and now translated for the first time, this novel by Moroccan writer and filmmaker Bouanani (1938-2011) plunges the reader into a world of pain, misery, and mystery—a world in which no one leaves the hospital because no one is ever cured. The patients are given nicknames that are both descriptive and evocative: Guzzler, Rover, Fartface. From the opening sentence—“When I walked through the large iron gate of the hospital, I must have still been alive”—Bouanani introduces a world of confinement and a kind of death in life. The narrator admits to being a “great amnesiac,” and much of the book is about the possibility of recovering his memory. He’s observant of the present, however, and spends a great deal of time describing what he sees—his fellow patients as well as the hospital itself. Incongruously, amid the bleakness of the patients’ lives, the hospital has a garden, ancient oaks, and profuse vegetation. Bouanani foregoes conventional narrative structure and instead presents his plot as a series of encounters—some brutish, some tender—between patients. The narrator uses the dreamlike aura of the hospital in a self-conscious way as he wonders for “the thousandth time” what he’s doing there and questions whether his experience is “dream or reality”—and he then aptly alludes to his earlier reading of Kafka and Borges. Nothing ever becomes quite clear in the narrator’s experience but rather remains murkily allegorical. Whatever else it may be, the hospital is definitely a microcosm of suffering humanity: “Regardless of where I look, even in the depths of my sleep, I see nothing but men set upon by a decay greater than ever before. It’s not just disease wearing them down.”
A puzzling but haunting novel.