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This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben…

This Blinding Absence of Light

by Tahar Ben Jelloun

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4181539,357 (4.15)98
An immediate and critically acclaimed bestseller in France and winner of the 2004 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, This Blinding Absence of Light is the latest work by Tahar Ben Jelloun, the first North African winner of the Prix Goncourt and winner of the 1994 Prix Mahgreb. 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--living 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 a 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.… (more)



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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
"Most of those who died did not die of hunger but of hatred. Feeling hatred diminishes you. It eats at you from within and attacks the immune system. When you have hatred inside you, it always crushes you in the end."

This book is based on the testimony of Aziz Binebine, a young officer cadet, who in 1971 took part in the coup to overthrow King Hassan II of Morocco at his 42nd birthday celebration at his Skhirat palace. The plot failed, the king survived but almost 100 guests died. Despite claiming, like most of the coup participants, to have had no prior knowledge of the plot or having fired no shots Aziz Binebine was sentenced to 20 years in the hellhole prison at Tazmamart with 57 other men.

At Tazmamart the cells were 10ft long and 5ft wide, with ceilings so low the prisoners were unable to stand upright and worse of all were underground so in constant darkness. Each tomb had an air vent, a tiny hole in the floor that served as the lavatory and were crawling with scorpions the men could hear but not see. There was no medical attention, no exercise, and no light. The only time they were allowed out was to bury one of their fellow in-mates.

It took thirteen years before the outside world learnt that Tazmamart existed and another five years before it was shut down by which time there were only 28 survivors.

Despite it's grim background this can by no means be seen as outwardly political neither is it autobiographical although it is told in the first person. Rather it speaks of man's ability to adapt and will to survive. Rather coincidentally I re-watched the movie "Lucy" last night. In that film Morgan Freeman's character talks of human brains desire to propagate if conditions are favourable or to seek immortality if they are not.

To survive and to stay sane, each in-mate takes on a certain role. One becomes a talking clock, another recites passages from the Qur'an, whilst another invents a card game with imaginary cards. The narrator,Salim, becomes the groups storyteller, recounting stories from books that he's read or films that he's seen. He is not religious when he arrives in Tazmamart but to escape the torments of his body he must take on a certain religious mysticism, lose all memories of hate in his past,and seek out the hidden depths of his mind. Horrible deaths alternate with inspired collective efforts to stay alive.

Through Salim the reader realises that ideas can never be imprisoned, they are free to travel everywhere and anywhere, that the human spirit can adapt to almost any circumstances, that it is hatred not love that holds us back. Despite the grim background I found this an up-lifting tale, a shaft of light in a world of darkness, I really enjoyed the author's writing style and as such I would highly recommend it. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Mar 17, 2019 |
This book was a hard, hard , hard read. Based upon true events, it is the story of an inmate of the Tazmamart Prison. Aziz was a soldier who took part in a failed assassination attempt on King Hassan II of Morocco. Hassan ordered his political enemies to be held in an underground desert concentration camp where they were kept in 6 x 3' cells devoid of light or proper ventilation. Aziz and twenty-one other prisoners locked away without proper food or sanitary conditions. Many men went insane or died from uncontrolled illnesses and starvation. After nearly two decades in captivity, only four survived their experience. Because Ben Jelloun takes Aziz's experiences and fictionalizes it with a first person narrative the story becomes even more intimate and heartbreaking. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Dec 30, 2018 |
ألــم يطهر الروح وينيرها !! ( )
  fatma92 | Feb 27, 2014 |
تلك العتمة الباهرة

أولئك الذين حاكوا من ظلامِ العتمةِ ثوباً من ضياءِ الصبرِ و الشجاعةِ .. تُبهرُني أخبارُهم كلما قرأتها و مررت بها، فلله در صبرهم و تضحياتهم

عزيز بنبين، هو أحد العسكريين المتورطين في انقلاب على طاغية المغرب عام 1971م ، والمنفيين إلى معتقل تازمامارت الرهيب ، والذي خرج شبحاً إنسانياً بعد أكثرمن ثماني عشرة سنة من العتمة ، ليبهرَ بوجعِه و ضياءِ صبرِهِ قلمَ الطاهر بن جلون

من أراد لقلبه أن يرقَّ و لعينِه أن تدمعَ فعليه بأدب السجون؛ ليقرأ في مآسي القوم و صبرهم على البلاء .. سيستحقر بعدها ما هو فيه من آلام بل سيستحي حتى من الشكوى

هذه شهادة سطرَها التاريخُ بالدماء، تُوضع بجانب أخواتها من الشهادات حول العالم، لعلها تنبه يوماً ما أعينَ الناس ليفيقوا من تأثير سحر إعلام الطغاة ، و ليعلموا أنه مهما طال الزمن فأولئك الطغاة راحلون و لا شك ، و أن ما يبقى و سيذكره التاريخ هو صبر من صبَرَ في وجه الظلم ، أما أولئك الطغاة فلن يذكرهم التاريخ إلا باللعنات

اللهم فرق بينهم وبين ما يحبون كما فرقوا بين الأب وابنته، وبين الأم و ولدها، و بين الزوج وزوجته .. و أرنا عجائب قدرتك في كل من طغى و تكبر، يا رب العالمين

( )
  AmrAzzazi | Feb 27, 2014 |
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. ( )
5 vote rachbxl | Jan 23, 2012 |
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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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