From author Tahar Ben Jelloun, the first North African winner of the Prix Goncourt, comes the horrific story of the desert concentration camps in which King Hassan II of Morocco held his political enemies in underground cells with no light and only enough food and water to keep them lingering on the edge of death.
...a moving story based on the experiences of a real-life soldier...after he takes part in an abortive attempt to overthrow King Hassan II of Morocco in 1971 … Salim entertains his fellow prisoners by reciting from memory long passages from favorite books — notably the Koran and Camus's novel The Stranger — but at length he succumbs to the idea that he himself has become 'a book no one would ever open.' This novel sold well in France last year; it seems that people did indeed want to hear Salim's story just as it is presented in this sad and splendid book.
Although it is technically a novel, it is a novel stripped, like its subject, of all life's comforts. What we're left with is Salim's voice, a voice all the more magnificent for being draped in darkness. Some have found echoes of Beckett in the lucid, pared-down prose, and certainly there is something Beckettian about his limited environment and studied hopelessness. But that he has renounced hope for a higher purpose is clear from the opening lines … The narrative follows a winding and treacherous path: inspired solitary departures end in unspeakable degradation. Horrible deaths alternate with inspired collective efforts to stay alive … It is, despite its dark materials, a joy to read.
This semi-documentary novel...joins the long list of prison books descended from Dostoevsky’s The House of the Dead … The story’s sensibility and emphases seem at times inalienably remote, but whenever Ben Jelloun focuses on Salim’s (quite universal) imagined continuing relation with the world from which he has been in effect exiled, it exudes a very nearly Dostoevskyan concentration and power.