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Een verblindende afwezigheid van licht (edition 2008)

by Tahar Ben Jelloun

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3141035,401 (4.02)85
Member:miekekwant
Title:Een verblindende afwezigheid van licht
Authors:Tahar Ben Jelloun
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Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:vertaald, Marokko

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This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
How can a book about 18 years in prison in appalling conditions be so beautiful?

In 1971 a small group of army officers attempted a coup d'etat against Moroccan king Hassan II; it failed and they were arrested. Having spent several years in a standard prison (and already able to see the end of their sentences), they were unexpectedly transferred to a specially-created secret prison where they spent 18 years in small cells designed so no light came in (hence the title), and in which it was impossible to stand up.

Ben Jelloun's novel is a fictionalised account of life in the prison at Tazmamart, based on the story of one particular survivor, the narrator. Ben Jelloun's slightly detached style lends itself perfectly to describing the prisoners' life; I had to stop occasionally to take in what he was saying, not because it wasn't clear, but so as to let it sink in. I think he almost gives you a choice - you can read on quickly, or you can stop and think about what he's saying. There are descriptions of conditions so inhumane as to be almost unthinkable...and accounts of what the men did to counter them. One kept track of time over the years. One recited the Koran, teaching it to the others. The narrator, a cultured, well-educated man, recited books he had read - from memory. There are also matter-of-fact descriptions of descent into madness, of drawn-out, painful deaths in lonely cells...and of the careful burials accorded to each victim (the only time the men were allowed outside).

In a sense, all of human life is here in this small closed space - the cruelty of those responsible, the indifference of those who could change things but didn't, the quick deaths of the prisoners who gave up...and the breath-taking strength of character of those who didn't. It's the last that makes the book so beautiful, together with Ben Jelloun's style.

Whilst the English translation won the IMPAC award, when the original came out in 2001 it caused great controversy. The survivor on whom the narrator was based, Aziz Binebine, distanced himself from Ben Jelloun and the book in an open letter (he objected to the way in which the book had been produced and to some of the terms of the contract, and he says he was forced into the open letter because Ben Jelloun wouldn't communicate with him directly). Meanwhile Ben Jelloun was widely criticised for not having raised his voice and denounced Tazmamart earlier; he countered that like all Moroccans, he had been prevented from speaking out by fear (particularly understandable in his case, I'd say, since he was imprisoned by the regime for a couple of years as a young man).

Whilst the controversy raises what I think are fascinating questions about the role and responsibility of the writer, I'm not sure it detracts from this novel itself, which is a great work of fiction - and one without which I, for one, would still be ignorant of these events. I've often said on LT that one mark of good fiction, for me, is that it makes me want to go and find out about what actually happened, and that was the case here. ( )
4 vote rachbxl | Jan 23, 2012 |
This novel is based on real events, and is drawn from the testimony of a former inmate of Tazmamart prison in Morocco, where a group of young cadets is imprisoned after a failed coup attempt in which they unwittingly participated. Their cells are so small they cannot stand upright or stretch out full-length, and they are kept in constant darkness. They subsist on water and 'starch,' which they are given once a day. One by one, they begin to die, each in a unique and horrific manner (poisoned by thousands of roach eggs, stung by hundreds of scorpions, let your imagination do the rest).

Each cadet has a function in the loose society that is formed in the prison, and the narrator's function is that of storyteller: he relates the stories of books he has read and movies he has seen to keep the minds of the other prisoners occupied: 'My friends, I would like your attention and absolute quiet, because I am going to take you to America in the 1950's.' Thus begins a surreal narration of A Streetcar Named Desire. The other prisoners can hardly believe the scene of Marlon Brandon on his knees bellowing, 'Stella! Stella!'

He can contemplate a single word, 'coffee,' for an entire day, ending in a 'palace where a king or prince will not get out of bed until he has had two cups of a good brisk arabica imported from Costa Rica, roasted by Italians, and prepared by a Neapolitan chef.'

Despite the grim inhumanity of the subject matter, the small details of the prisoners' endurance prevent the novel from being totally bleak. I highly recommend this book.

4 1/2 stars ( )
2 vote arubabookwoman | Dec 10, 2010 |
Tar Ben Jelloun listened to the stories of one of the survivors of Tazmamart and then crafted those stories into a first person account of one man's experiences during his nineteen years of incarceration in the prison.

A year after a failed coup d'état, 58 men were transferred from their normal prison to a new facility built underground as "a dungeon designed to be in eternal darkness." There they were placed in 6' x 3' cells where they could not stand upright, with a 4" hole in the floor as a toilet and a tiny pipe to the surface (shielded against light passing down it) for air.

They were rarely tortured—instead, the intention was to let them die as slowly as could be contrived from the conditions in their cells...most of the original inmates obliged, as well as many political prisoners who were added later.

They had no protection against the bitter cold and damp. They were given one small meal a day of watery starch noodles. They were given no medical treatment regardless of what happened to them. Men died from tuberculosis, starvation, scorpion bites (the cells were infested), eating tainted food and infections. The guards even watched as one man was even eaten alive by insects once he developed gangrene. Efforts were made to prevent them from committing suicide as an escape. All in utter darkness. Those who survived were crippled physically as well as emotionally; several went insane.

Only after decades did a guard's leaked information lead to Amnesty International's intervention and the closing of the prison.

The resulting novel is disturbing and moving, a testament to inhumanity and endurance. If you have a tolerance for reading this, I strongly recommend this book. ( )
11 vote TadAD | Jul 9, 2010 |
Ben Jalloun's novel is based on the story of one Aziz Binebine, who was sentenced to a 20-year stretch of time in the hellhole prison of Tazmamart for his role in the 1971 attempted coup of King Hassan II's Moroccan government. The novel is fictional, but the underground prison of Tazmamart and living conditions there (it is now destroyed) are not.

The book examines the story of one character, Salim, who like others who were sentenced there for his part in the attempted coup. Their "home" was an underground cell, so small that even something as ordinary as sitting was an impossibility. Cockroaches and scorpions were co-inhabitants, as was the constant darkness. The food kept the prisoners alive, but just barely. Many of the prisoners turned to their faith in Allah and to the Qu'ran to make it through their ordeal, while Salim turned deeply inward, letting go of both memory, because "to remember was to die," and of the physicality of his body.

This Blinding Absence of Light is one of those books you must actually experience for yourself -- book reviews and descriptions of it can't really do the story justice. If you have a low tolerance for human despair, or you're in the mood for something happy, forget this one. Difficult to read at many points (and on many levels), this book left me considering the cruelty that can more often than not accompany power. It's also a reminder that in some cases, Hell already exists on earth. ( )
  bcquinnsmom | Mar 24, 2010 |
This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun. Translated by Linda Coverdale. This book is based on real events.

The protagonist is one of 58 prisoners who were taken captive in the king’s palace after a failed coup to oust King Hassan II of Morocco, in 1971. After two years in a conventional prison, they were transferred to Tazmamart Prison, where these men would be held individually in subterranean dungeons under the most alarmingly barbaric conditions. They were deprived of food and water – except enough to keep them barely alive – of company, of physical space, and of everything else, including light, hence the striking title of the novel.

The narrator, Salim, is one of the incarcerated men who tells of the 18 years he spent in this cell, and how he and some of the men managed to stay alive, sometimes just barely. The majority of them died because of a lack of strength to withstand the terrible deprivation. The contents of the book are bleak, but on the flip side, it shows the amazing reserves of human willpower.

The well-read narrator draws on his inner strength to keep going, and exercises his mind by telling stories to his fellow inmates ranging from scenes from A Streetcar Named Desire to Albert Camus’ The Stranger. They would teach each other language skills, and recite verses from the Qu'ran. Sometimes a little bird would visit the cell and bring the inmates an inordinate amount of joy, with their movements and their song.

Throughout this ordeal Salim refuses to think about his life before prison, and this takes considerable restraint. “To remember was to die ... How were we to know that, in that place, homesickness was fatal? We were in our graves, banished forever from our lives and all remembrance. Perhaps the walls weren’t thick enough, in spite of the ramparts all round, nothing could keep memory from seeping in.” As he perseveres, he develops a strong sense of spirituality, which pulls him through the most difficult and trying times.

I was completely moved by this book. It made me grateful for the little things in life that I take for granted. To quote from the book: “Ah! The smell of toast and coffee in the morning. Ah! The softness of warm sheets and a woman’s hair as she gets dressed again ... Ah! The shouts of children on a playground, the ballet of sparrows in a limpid sky, as the afternoon draws to an end! Oh, how lovely and how terrible are the simple things in life when they are gone, set forever out of reach...”

An important, compelling and highly recommended book. ( )
5 vote akeela | Feb 24, 2010 |
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Ik heb lang gezocht naar de zwarte steen die de ziel zuivert van de dood.
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Original title: Cette aveuglante absence de lumière
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014303572X, Paperback)

An immediate and critically acclaimed bestseller in France, This Blinding Absence of Light is the latest work by internationally renowned author Tahar Ben Jelloun, the first North African winner of the Prix Goncourt and winner of the Prix Mahgreb. Crafting real life events into narrative fiction, Ben Jelloun reveals 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. Working closely with one of the survivors, Ben Jelloun narrates the story in the simplest of language and delivers a shocking novel that explores both the limitlessness of inhumanity and the impossible endurance of the human will.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:31 -0400)

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"Ben Jelloun crafts a horrific real-life narrative into fiction to tell the appalling story of the desert concentration camps in which King Hassan II of Morocco held his political enemies under the most harrowing conditions. Not until September 1991, under international pressure , was Hassan's regime forced to open these desert hellholes. A handful of survivors - livng cadavers who had shrunk by over a foot in height - emerged from the six-by-three-foot cells in which they had been held underground for decades." "Working closely with one of the survivors, Ben Jelloun eschewed the traditional novel format and wrote the book in the simplest of language, reaching always for the most basic of words, the most correct descriptions. The result is a shocking novel that explores both the limitlessness of inhumanity and the impossible endurance of the human will."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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