“For the Bread Alone” by Mohamed Choukri

This post is also available in: Italiano

A book that has entered, willingly and unwillingly, into the history of Moroccan literature. Mohamed Choukri’s biography fully shows what post-WWII Tangier used to be, a text that can only be one of the strongest portraits of this incredible country.

For Bread Alone

The book is an autobiography and tells of the author’s childhood. Born in the 1940s to a very poor Berber family in the Rif mountains and forced to move to Tangier following a severe famine. Little Mohamed escaped from his violent and alcoholic father there, thus transforming the street into his home. The novel is a merciless look at the reality of Morocco in those years, a society full of prostitutes, pederasts and drug addicts.

Mohamed Choukri
Tangier

Mohamed Choukri does not take prisoners in his autobiography which turns out to be one of the strongest in the entire Arab literature. It must be said, however, that in the finale there is hope for Morocco and its people. In fact, Mohamed Choukri learned to read and write in prison thanks to the writings of the Tunisian poet Al Shabbi, later managing to become a teacher and writer. Furthermore, the novel has the merit of being one of the few to treat Morocco in the last years of the Franco-Spanish colonization.

An English original version

The book was written by the author on the impulse of the American writer Paul Bowles, who, hearing Choukri talking about the story of his life, suggested that he translate it into English. Choukri, at the time of accepting, seems not to have actually written a single line, and the genesis of the novel was extremely rapid. The English translation (For Bread Alone, 1973), was conducted on the manuscript (still unpublished) in Arabic, in collaboration with the author, who explained the text to Bowles using a mix of French, Moroccan Arabic and Spanish dialectal. Only 1980 the book was translated into French by Tahar Ben Jelloun and in 1982 into Arabic, triggering many controversies to be censored in Morocco until 2000.

Mohamed Choukri
Mohamed Choukri

Mohamed Choukri’s naked bread is one of the most interesting books of Moroccan literature ever, capable of immersing the author in the worst alleys of Tangier, making him experience the breeze of a life and time that are difficult to explain otherwise. A life that could only be a novel.

P.s. at the time I could not find the Italian edition, I don’t know if the situation has changed but paradoxically, the English edition is the original one.

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