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For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri

For Bread Alone (1980)

by Mohamed Choukri

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (7)  Spanish (2)  Basque (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (11)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
In all honesty, I don’t know how to react to this book or to the life story it tells. The very first page seats us in the story; there is death, starvation, and desperation. Young Mohamed Choukri is crying for bread, his brother is sick, his father is beating him. His mother, like so many women in the books we’ve read is helpless, she admonishes Mohamed to be quiet like his brother, his sick brother. Still, nothing prepared me for Mohamed’s search through the garbage dumps for food and his frank exchange with another boy “covered in ringworm…scarred with sores” about how “Nazarene garbage is the best” (11).

Page 11 is the third page of the story. On page 12 the unthinkable—at least to my eyes—happens: Mohamed’s violent father murders his sick brother. The way it is related seems callous, cold, and it seems very little different from Mohamed’s attempts to kill (an already dead) hen on the previous page. It’s impossible to miss the message about what one does under conditions of abject poverty. We don’t know why his father kills his brother, but we can see that poverty was the trigger.

Mohamed’s life revolves around satisfying his most basic of needs. As a child that need is food, then shelter, then, as he ages, sex and the escape his vices of alcohol and kif bring him. It would be simple to say that Mohamed has no limitations, no moral compass, that there is nothing he will not do, but that wouldn’t be exactly true. He is bound, if not by his own morals or preferences, by the limitations society places on him. As a starving child he finds a dead hen then brings it home to his family. He “kills” it the way he’d seen others kill live hens and he attempts to do everything correctly to prepare this food for eating. His mother doesn’t allow him to eat it because it’s carrion and people don’t eat carrion. Not long after he picks rosemary for he and his mother to eat and when she finds out he’s picked it from a graveyard she takes it away because “you’re not supposed to eat anything that grows in a cemetery” (19). Mohamed would have eaten both the hen and the rosemary, because he was starving, but his mother would not because society told her it was wrong.

This book was scandalous because of the amount of sex contained in its pages. For me, what was scandalous was not the amount of sex but the reasons Mohamed engaged in sexual activity and the emotions (or lack thereof) he demonstrated while doing so. The sexual acts being all about Mohamed and treating the women as props can be partially excused by the first person point of view and by Mohamed as an unreliable narrator. I don’t think that fully excuses it, and the first person point of view actually enhances the disturbing nature of Mohamed’s violent sexual fantasies and acts.

Like many young boys, I’d imagine, Mohamed fantasizes about the women he encounters in his life. His stealing of Asiya’s clothes while she is swimming naked can be excused as the mischievousness (and relative lack of conscience) demonstrated by boys of that age. But his experiments with Fatima, where he “slap(s) her cheek to hear the sound it makes” (37) and his rape fantasies about Sallafa show a more disturbing side to his nature, one where sex is about power, not love. His learning he can make money by allowing men to fellate him only contributes to this idea by showing him that sex is something one does in exchange for something else, something that benefits one person, not both.

From the title it’s clear that bread—and what one might do for bread (food, survival)—is very important to this story. As a young, starving boy, Mohamed dives into the water to get a piece of bread thrown there by a fisherman. He finds himself surrounded by “lumps of shit” (93) and the bread is “sticky with oil from the boats” (93). This is a traumatic experience for him, and at the end of it when he drags himself back to shore, the ideas of “bread and shit” connected in his mind, the fisherman yells after him to come back, that it was only a joke. Perhaps to the fisherman it was, but what kind of joke is that to play on a starving child, to see how far he will go, how low he will sink? That isn’t the first time someone uses food to punish and harm Mohamed. Earlier, angry because Mohamed wouldn’t eat with the family, his father forces him to eat everything the family had for their meal, resulting in his needing his stomach pumped. Food, to him, becomes more than something needed for survival. It’s something controlled by others, something that can be taken away out of anger or on a whim.

Seeing his fellow inmate crumble his bread into the latrine and having Zailachi say “it’s his business” was a pivotal moment for Mohamed, coming as it does near the moments where he begins to learn letters and memorizes lines of poetry. “I tell you I’m free” (181) the bread-crumbler yells when confronted by others. Bread (food, life) can be under your own control, if you only have the knowledge to make it so. ( )
  tldegray | Sep 21, 2018 |
Un libro di una sensualità disperata, asciutta e... cazzuta! ( )
  downisthenewup | Aug 17, 2017 |
احسست ان الكاتب اراد ان يزيح جبالاً من على كتفه وكانه بالكتابه يكفر عن خطيئته لم يتجمل او يصور نفسه ملاكا لكنه ضحيه ابيه وامه عاش طفوله قاسيه مثل ديف بلازر فى طفل اسمه نكره وايضا حياه المجون مثل بطل ترمى بشرر
الروايه تريك الحقيقه عاريه دون تزييف من الممكن ان يقول البعض انها بها اشياء مقززه لكن اقول الحياه هكذا هذا وجهها البشع لاتطلبوا من انسان انتهك روحه وهو صغير ان يصير ملاكا لاتتوقعوا الكمال من البشر

اعتقد ان الترجمه ليست على النحو المطلوب فاحسست بعض الاجزاء تائهه منى

( )
  Yara.Eisa | Feb 27, 2014 |
This book, under difficult conditions translated into English by Paul Bowles, narrates a typical fate of a boy who grew up in the extremely poor region of the Northern Moroccan Berber area. Behind the touching story stands the silent question why Europeans, who are involved politically since more than a hundred years in Moroccan affairs, are not able to better basic life conditions and cultural standards in the Southern neighbouring states of the Mediterranean Sea.
  hbergander | Feb 16, 2014 |
Arabic title: "Al-Khubz al-Hafi"
  papusha | Jun 6, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Choukri, MohamedAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ben Jelloun, TaharTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bowles, PaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
Hongerjaren is het autobiografische verhaal van Mohammed Choukri (1935-2003) dat met rauw realisme laat zien hoe het is om te leven aan de onderkant van de Marokkaanse samenleving. Bij verschijning in Marokko zorgde dit boek voor grote opschudding en werd het zelfs tot 2000 verboden.

Wanneer werkloosheid en honger de familie Choukri uit hun geboortestreek drijft, moet Mohammed eenmaal in de stad aangekomen het gezin in leven houden. Voor hem volgen jaren met honger, mishandeling, jongensprostitutie en diefstal. In de strijd om te overleven is alles geoorloofd en bieden alleen drank, drugs en seks enige verlichting.

Mohammed Choukri heeft met Hongerjaren een indrukwekkend verhaal geschreven over de verschrikkingen en beproevingen die hij in zijn leven heeft moeten doorstaan.
(Tekst van achterzijde boek)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0863561381, Paperback)

Choukri's classic and moving work, which has already been translated into more than ten languages,speaks for an entire generation of North Africans.

Born in the Rif, Choukri moved with his family to Tangier at a time of great famine. His childhood was spent in abject poverty; eight of his brothers and sisters died of malnutrition or neglect. During his adolescence, described here with its attendant erotic escapades, Choukri worked for a time as servant to a French family. He then returned to Tangier, where he experienced the violence of the 1952 independence riots.

At the age of 20, and still illiterate, he took the decision to learn to read and write classical Arabic - a decision, which transformed his life. After mastering the language, he became a teacher and writer, finally being awarded the chair of Arabic Literature at Ibn Batuta College in Tangier.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:30 -0400)

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