For Bread Alone

Mohamed Choukri

translated from the Arabic by Paul Bowles
Telegram 2006 [1973]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2008
Mohamed Choukri's autobiographical novel For Bread Alone describes a 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.

August 2008

External links:
- buy from or
- share this review on Facebook or Twitter
Related reviews:
- more Arabic literature
- books about Egypt + North Africa
- more diaries + autobiography
%T For Bread Alone
%A Choukri, Mohamed
%M Arabic
%F Bowles, Paul
%I Telegram
%D 2006 [1973]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1846590108
%P 213pp