“The Sand Child” by Tahar Ben Jelloun

This article is also available in: Italiano

A timeless classic that pays homage to Morocco and its stories. The writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, like a snake trainer, will enchant us by telling us the story of Ahmed, born a woman but raised to be a man.

The Sand Child

Ben Jelloun
Photo of Idriss Ela

In an ageless country, which is also today’s Morocco, Mohamed Ahmed was born after seven sisters. She is born female, but at the behest of her father, who does not want to disperse her accumulated wealth, she will grow a male in spite of her body, and she will be recognized by all as the new head of the family. “The Sand Child” is the story of an invented identity, of a forced metamorphosis, of the disturbances, obsessions, violence and paradoxes that derive from it.

A hidden story

Ben Jelloun reveals the traits of a practice deliberately hidden from most but which tells a lot about Moroccan society. In several parts of the book references are made to how this practice is ancient and rooted in the minds of Arabs since before Islam. The father will put pressure on this in order to bend the daughter’s nature to his will. But it will be the first menstrual cycle to show Ahmed the nature of him, lost with which he will have to live.

Ben Jelloun
Tahar Ben Jelloun

The character is impeccably written. He wants to remain faithful to his nature both to remain faithful to his privileges and because with his head he feels like a man. However, nature does not forgive and this will be the doubt that will afflict the protagonist: can we really decide who to be or in the end must we accept our nature? Personally, I really appreciated that, despite realizing all this, the character hasn’t changed too much. Ahmed in fact aims to find a balance between the two identities, trying to be a woman and a man together, free from everything and everyone.

An incredible narrative

Another excellence of the novel is certainly the narration, studied with incredible attention by Ben Jelloun. In fact, the book will start as the discovery of an ancient diary but then it will develop over the course of the novel becoming a real protagonist of the story.

Ben Jelloun
Arab leaders tell a story, Horace Vernet

In fact, as the text progresses, narrators and stories will alternate, thus building a structure very similar to that of The Thousand and One Nights, but with a style all its own and probably more faithful to the places. If in fact in the legendary work we have a unique initial narrator (Sherazade who tells the story), in Creatura di sabbia we will get lost and then arrive at an unexpected conclusion.

Tahar Ben Jelloun’s masterpiece

The book has always been considered one of the cornerstones of Maghrebi writing and only a madman could say the opposite. Tahar Ben Jelloun shows himself an incredible pen both for the topics dealt with and for the modalities, something that only great writers can do. A must-have novel in every Moroccan lover bookstore and this time we’re not exaggerating.

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