Mohamed Choukri's autobiographical novel For Bread Alone
bleak childhood and youth in Morocco. Fleeing drought and starvation
in the Rif, his family moves to Tangier and then Tetuan. Most of
his siblings die, of neglect or starvation or abuse, but he survives
the beatings of his father, the pangs of hunger, and the dangers of
the street. He lives by begging, petty theft, prostitution, smuggling
and occasional work, and he learns to enjoy sex, drugs and alcohol.
For Bread Alone
ends with Mohamed's decision to learn how to read and
write, inspired by a chance meeting in prison — and he went on to become
a writer and a lecturer in Arabic literature.
This narrative is grounded in direct experience and the immediate
concerns of everyday existence. Other characters appear and disappear
without explanation and there's little that connects with the broader
world, apart from peripheral involvement in the rioting that came with
independence in 1952.
For Bread Alone is a superficially sordid story, but it is told in
a matter-of-fact way, using sparse, simple language and dialogue, and
the thoughts and experiences of the down-and-out Mohamed seem entirely
natural. The result is compelling rather than depressing, a strikingly
memorable account of life in the Moroccan underclass.
Note: For Bread Alone was written in classical Arabic, but translated
via colloquial Moroccan with the assistance of the author.
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- Related reviews:
- more Arabic literature
- books about Egypt + North Africa
- more diaries + autobiography