NewsNorth AfricaWriting, an act of resistance

Thu,23Nov2017

Posted on Thursday, 14 May 2015 16:46

Writing, an act of resistance

By Nadia Rabbaa

In his new book, the gay Moroccan author explores how a society famed for its freedom still harbours prejudice.

Set across the French capital, Abdellah Taïa's new novel Un Pays pour Mourir (A Country to Die In) depicts the lives of migrants that live on the margins of French society.

The book is about all these migrants that have escaped their countries, to realise that even freedom is discriminating against you here

These include Zahira, the main character, a Moroccan prostitute who has sex with the tired and the poor out of a sense of charity.

Her best friend, Aziz, is a transgender Algerian whose story is traced through the phases before his sex-change operation.

Mojtaba, another Parisian, is an Iranian homosexual in political exile.

Taïa is no stranger to his characters' situations. "I am in all of them," he says.

"They are people like me who experienced famine and hunger as well as political non-existence."

He says that writing is an act of rebellion, as he feels he owes it to these people to put them in the centre of the narrative.

"I live in Paris, and I read Marcel Proust. It doesn't mean that I have stopped being one of them.

"It doesn't mean that my faith is distinct from them, now that I don't share their reality any more.

"I write to express their voice, a voice that is not heard."

Taïa embraces the French tradition of littérature engagée – fiction that speaks out for freedom and solidarity.

Although his latest book is set in Paris, the title refers to a Moroccan expression that characterises the kingdom as 'not a country to live in but a country to die in'.

His characters are exiles who find they are not accepted in their country of adoption.

He explains: "I wrote this book as an act of resistance against the image that a country like France has of me and people like me. The book is about all these migrants that have escaped their countries, to realise that even freedom is discriminating against you here."

Since his first book Mon Maroc (My Morocco), Taïa's writing has evolved.

He has now replaced the long sentences and numerous descriptions with a more rhythmic flow: short sentences and internal monologues in the first person, as if the narrator is in the head of the characters.

"I hate classicism in literature, whether in French or Arabic. Why would we have to base our writing on something written 10 centuries ago?" he asks.

"What comes first to me when I write is the memory I have of life."

This is why Taïa's books have a common theme: Morocco, his Morocco. It is a popular, marginalised, unspoken Morocco.

"You can't throw yourself into writing from a different place than the one where you first saw the light of day," Taïa argues.

Now 41, Taïa has been writing fiction influenced by his own life since 2000, but it was not until 2006 that he 'came out' in a magazine interview, causing shock waves across the Arab world.

He maintains that he is the only Moroccan writer to be openly gay.

Through writing, he says, he wants things to change, but it is not an outlet for his existential questions.

"Writing is not my therapy. It does not fix you. You never get over your childhood trauma,"
he says. ●

Photo©Vincent Fournier for JA



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