When I invited my desk calendar to influence my reading plans, I was hoping to explore a city like this. Previously I could not have named a single Moroccan author—now there are several on my TBR list—and from the moment my research began, my starting point was clear.
Tahar Ben Jelloun’s writing has won the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Ulysse and been nominated for the Nobel Prize. He was born in Morocco in 1944 and was part of the student rebellion there in 1966, was sentenced to a military camp, and relocated to Paris following the publication of his first poems in 1971.
The Sand Child (1985; translated by Alan Sheridan, 1987) unfolds as a storyteller begins to share the contents of a sheaf of papers. There, in the marketplace of Marrakech “where grains are sold and peasants and animals sleep together, a place of exchange between town and country, surrounded by low walls and irrigated by a natural spring”.
It’s a story about a man whose eighth child is born, a child who must be male to accommodate the rules of inheritance, so although the child is born a girl, she is raised and presented as a boy.
As if this wasn’t interesting enough, there’s a lot to say about storytelling itself:
“The book is like a house in which each window is a district, each door a town, each page a street; it is only a sham house, a theatrical set in which the moon and sky are represented by a lightbulb and a blue sheet held between two windows.”