From the late Moroccan writer and filmmaker—whose work was often censored—this translated novel draws on Bouanani’s own experiences as a tuberculosis patient in a hospital that begins to feel increasingly like a prison or a strange nightmare.
Some of The Hospital’s strangest and most moving passages are those in which the narrator, in what seems to be a fever dream, slips back into the skin of the child he was ... Sometimes these conjurings are achieved with remarkable ease ... At other times, Bouanani suggests that communing with the past and the dead comes at a steep price ... One of the remarkable characteristics of The Hospital is how masterfully it weaves together high and low registers, wistfulness and violence, the lyrical and the scatological. Bouanani’s writing—which in The Hospital, and especially in the original French, uncoils in long, barbed sentences—mixes melancholy, fury, wild visions, and humor. Some of this is lost in Vergnaud’s translation, which although generally faithful and graceful breaks the long French sentences into shorter declarative ones in English, sometimes changing the order and therefore the emphasis of their parts. Bouanani’s language still has its force but it loses some of its rhythm and lands fewer of its blows.
The patient—suffering from an unnamed illness—becomes trapped in a bewildering twilight between life and death. The hospital is a haunted shadow world where memory struggles for a breath of air, where the grotesque facts of the outside country are gone over at leisure. Indignities and past sufferings (long-ago familial deaths, a childhood friend left asleep under a streetlamp, the violent and petty offenses of self-proclaimed criminals) are felt again, perhaps made worse by the removal: the ability to sit and think over events with no further possibility of investigation, action, or intervention ... There is no real story—which might sound like a critique but in fact is a kind of writing that can be just as cogent and enjoyable as the other, more plot-based or emotionally arcing sort, when the bursts of dialogue, bits of mordant wisdom, and small occurrences are done as well as they are done here.
Bouanani’s work has a timeless urgency to it, the kind of timeless frustration that can only come from a specific time and place. And like The Trial or the great Eastern Bloc science-fiction of the 1960s and 70s or other great dystopian novels of the past, the human rage, frustration, and isolation it expresses is equally poignant in past, present, and future.