1. Jilali El Koudia, Stories Under the Sun, reviewed by Said Mentak
2. Abdellatif Akbib, Tangier's Eyes on America, reviewed by Said Mentak
3. Elizabeth Marsh, The Female Captive: A Narrative of Facts Which Happened in Barbary in the Year 1756, Written by Herself, ed. Khalid Bekkaoui, reviewed by Samantha Pitchforth
1. Jilali El Koudia, Stories Under the Sun, Fes: I'Media, 1999, ISBN: 9954-0-0288-X, 168 pp.
Reviewed by Said Mentak
Stories Under the Sun contains twenty-three short stories written from varied perspectives. The collection plunges the reader into a sea of lives that are sometimes crushed by the destructive power of false hope or that of public shame. The old man in "Red Arrows" is immersed in his happiness with his son's material gift that is just the beginning of a hopeful future and the young man finds great joy in his newborn child, but things do not turn out as we expect them to. The young man runs over the old man and causes his death. Abdou in "Blood of Honour" has a strong wish to get married but the stress of the Moroccan tradition of showing his virility and his wife's honour through the public display of a bloodied white cloth demonstrating that defloration has occurred renders him impotent, but ironically his wife saves his face by using the blood from a wound on his face. The stories, however, do not always have this tragic mood. El Koudia shows his skill at comic scenes as well; "Hunger Strike" is the story of the North African Mokou who looks after a pigsty and a boar. The boar becomes friendly with him to the extent that when the latter is hospitalised, the boar refuses to eat. The French owners have failed to make it eat, and when Mokou is cured he tells them the secret: "even a boar does not live only on food and water". In reading between the lines, the situation of Mokou is not so very different. A female presence will give meaning to his insignificant life. Have the French owners understood this? The ending of 'Hunger Strike' does not say. As in all the stories, El Koudia leaves endings open for different interpretations. "To each his own meaning", the writer of 'Reed Roots' warns us. Indeed, it demands enough courage to approach human crises with a mind that remains open to multiple possibilities and surprises. El Koudia has just this sort of courage as he has managed to avoid hasty judgments and cliched resolutions.
The title Stories Under the Sun does not simply indicate a set of stories that are narrated in daylight. The sun is also a character, but as indifferent to events as the narrator himself. And even when there is no sun, artificial light becomes the only alternative; the narrator of "Just a Slight Change" admits his fear of darkness, a fear that has haunted him since childhood. These stories encompass all of the concerns and predicaments that there are `under the sun': hope and despair, life and death, hate and love, justice and injustice, weakness and power, and finally the ability of man and woman to survive the destructive elements in life that come most of the time as suddenly as sparks of fire. In short, the collection is concerned with life itself, life as we experience it, particularly in Morocco, under the sun.
2. Abdellatif Akbib, Tangier's Eyes on America, Ado Maroc, 2001, ISBN: 9954-8095-0-3, 89 pp.
Reviewed by Said Mentak
Abdellatif Akbib has written a travel narrative that records his experience as a Fulbright scholar in the United States of America. The book is replete with significant encounters which, in spite of their simplicity, reveal amusing, if not satirically comic, American prejudices about other cultures, and in this case, Moroccan culture. From his first contact with the Immigration Control service in the New York airport to his return to Morocco, Akbib shows skill in capturing what may appear to us common and natural incidents. The reader feels the touch of a short-story writer who has already published three collections: Graffiti (1997), Between the Lines (1998), and The Lost Generation (2000). It is not surprising then if facts and fiction are fused sometimes to produce a striking effect that blurs the boundary between the real and the fictive; more than that, such a fusion makes of reality a stranger realm, stranger even than fiction itself, especially when Morocco is believed to be an American state!
American prejudices have a double edged effect on Akbib. On the one hand, he is shocked at the naivity of some Americans who voice their biased opinions and sense of American pride irrespective of the visitor's feelings. Yet such a shock is skilfully turned into biting humour that does not in the least bear any grudge against Americans because Akbib is fully aware that such a feeling would only nourish in him the sort of prejudices that he has himself mocked in Americans. It is here that Akbib has triumphed over narrow views to provide us with a vivid picture about the risks of belittling others, who he recognises as human beings just like himself.
Therefore, Tangier's Eyes on America paves the way for both American and Moroccan readers to see clearly that cultures and human beings are different. This is the message of Akbib's travel account, and this is what makes the book a valuable document for anybody interested in cultural difference and not in cultural war. Besides, Tangier, the writer's hometown, is an international site where races meet and mingle, where difference finds its convincing incarnation, and so is America. Both Tangier (a microcosm of Morocco) and America are renowned for their long-standing hybrid cultures. The choice of the title is a good example of how a travel account becomes more significant when it is put in its historical background, and Laamiri's introduction to the book in this sense is just as important since it sheds some light on the tradition of the travel narratives which Arab writers excelled at. In this respect, Akbib's Tangier's Eyes on America has an insightful quality, useful to laypeople as well as to the academic reader.
3. Elizabeth Marsh, The Female Captive: A Narrative of Facts Which Happened in Barbary in the Year 1756, Written by Herself, ed. Khalid Bekkaoui, Casablanca: Moroccan Cultural Studies Centre, ISBN: 9981-829-32-3
Reviewed by Samantha Pitchforth, Sheffield Hallam University
Originally published in London in 1769, The Female Captive is Elizabeth Marsh’s narrative of her Barbary captivity from July to November 1756. Marsh, a gentleman’s daughter en route from Gibraltar to England in order to meet her intended husband, was on board a ship unfortunately separated from its man-o-war protector when it met with Barbary corsairs. Marsh was taken from the port of Salé to Marrakech, where she excited the interest of Prince Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah who attempted to persuade her to renounce Christianity, become a Muslim, and take a place in his seraglio.
Bekkaoui helpfully locates Marsh’s narrative amongst a tradition of better-known Barbary captivity narratives written by male authors. As the title suggests, Marsh’s gender renders her narrative a unique account from this period and this location. Bekkaoui also acknowledges and illustrates the popularity of bogus accounts of captivity purportedly written by female authors during this period, but gives clear evidence of the authenticity of Marsh’s narrative. He also distinguishes Marsh from other writers in the captivity genre by virtue of her authenticity within the narrative itself. Marsh does not use plagiarised details from travel literature and other accounts so often the stock materials of the captivity narrator, relying instead only upon her own experience. Marsh simply has no interest in padding her account with ethnographic or geographic observations, hackneyed or otherwise, that characteristically make up so many pages in this genre, as she makes clear from her prefatory address to the public. As a result the two volumes of the narrative are slim, though containing much to entertain a contemporary or a modern reader, such as a rare view from inside the seraglio. It is here that Marsh unwittingly makes the declaration which, she is told, transforms her from a Christian to a Muslim. From without the confines of the seraglio, Marsh’s companion in captivity (and her future husband) Mr Crisp, is sidelined for much of the narrative; the protection Marsh was commended to for the journey by her father is represented as impotent and useless.
Marsh’s behaviour towards the Prince and her descriptions of him make her narrative equivocal at best. Her evident interest in the Prince and his surroundings sit uneasily alongside her professions of distress, and herein lies some of Marsh’s difficulty in publishing her account. Bekkaoui suggests the reason for the relative lack of factual accounts of Barbary captivity by female authors, blaming the ‘taint’ of contact with the Other for arousing the suspicion of fellow Europeans. Expecting, and indeed experiencing, a hostile reception from their compatriots, he argues, female Barbary captives failed to publish details of their captivities resulting in a silence broken only by Elizabeth Marsh’s narrative.
Marsh herself was extremely concerned to protect her identity from the reading public. Names and dates are omitted from the narrative but, thankfully, Bekkaoui has discovered a manuscript note with the British Library edition (one of only two known surviving editions) providing the name of the author and other useful information. Bekkaoui argues that Marsh’s reputation in England was blackened by her connection with Prince Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah, but the text suggests that it is not only her association with the Other which causes this unhappy loss of character. Marsh claimed that Mr Crisp was her husband before the fact, in order to escape the desires of the Prince. She laments that the ‘ill-disposed Part of the World’ (83) would have it otherwise. Defending herself against censure on this score, Marsh emphasises the fraternal nature of her ties with Mr Crisp during their captivity. Later however, with her characteristic indirectness regarding her own motivations, she admits to no small surprise at Mr Crisp’s proposal of marriage. Fortunately for the pair, Marsh’s intended match is no longer in view, and the wedding takes place.
Bekkaoui also provides a wealth of detail on the historical context surrounding Marsh’s capture, particularly the troubled nature of contemporary Anglo-Moroccan relations and also includes a useful bibliography relative to Barbary captivity. The editor brings to our attention a long-neglected but unique volume that should prove an important source for scholars of the captivity narrative and of the eighteenth century.