Friday, 10 February 2012

for bread alone (mohamed choukri)

This book is mentioned in Teju Cole's Open City, when the young Moroccan his narrator meets in Brussels recommends him rather than Ben Jelloun. Choukri's book is told in the first person and from the notes supplied by Paul Bowles, who translated it, it's largely autobiographical. Given this, it may well not be representative of his wider work.

The underlying narrative of For Bread Alone is Mohamed's journey towards the light of literature. Born in desperate poverty, his father a vicious bully who kills Mohamed's younger brother, his mother constantly pregnant with children who may or may not survive infancy, the book recounts his teenage years as he learns to fend for himself, taking in the pleasures of sex, alcohol and opiates along the way. It's a bawdy, energetic read, which glories in the narrator's discoveries of the pleasures of life as he does all he can just to survive. It may not be great literature but at the same time, in a message the book is consciously making as it closes with Mohamed's discovery of literacy, it's a testament to the power of literature. How it can honour the uncharted life, destroy obscurity, grant a voice to the voiceless. As such, you can see why Cole's Moroccan valued this book, (and why Harbor by Adams feels like such a prescient modern text). Choukri articulates a life which was destined to go, like the stories of so many others, unfeted, unknown.

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