The Curious Case of Contemporary Moroccan Literature

This month, Words Without Borders has a special feature on Moroccan literature, curated by Emma Ramadan and translated from the French, (Modern Standard) Arabic, Darija, and Tamazight:


Image from Words Without Borders.

Compared to Egyptian literature, or Lebanese, Moroccan literature is relatively little-translated into English.

Ramadan, the translator of Anne Garreta’s brilliant Sphinx, recently spent a year outside Marrakesh, translating Ahmed Bouanani and hunting down other Moroccan writers. One of the results of that year of work is this diverse issue of WWB. As Ramadan said in an email, “There’s a whole range of work in there — 10 writers translated from 4 languages, of all ages; a lot of poetry, some funny fiction, some militant feminist Tamazight work, and so much in between.”

One thing, Ramadan said, that “stood out to me was the experimental, strange nature of a lot of the fiction and poetry I read, particularly that being written in Arabic (which I read in French translation).”

This “strangeness” meant a variety of things “on the level of content in novels and short stories or playing with language itself, the way it looks on the page, the way rhyme can be used and distorted. I don’t think many people associate that kind of experimentation with Moroccan writing, particularly works written in Arabic, but it’s there! And it’s exciting!”

Ramadan said she was referring to the authors in the WWB issue, but also, for example, the story “La Jambe” by Anis Arrafai in 3:AM. Other experimental work by Moroccan authors can be found in a forthcoming issue of The Common.

Ramadan said, for her, “Mohamed Leftah’s fiction is surprisingly surrealist and strange, Ahmed Bouanani’s poetry does some very intricate and playful things with rhyme, one of Fouad Laroui’s stories — not the one in this issue but another in the book of his I’m working on — does some very cool things with repetition on the page.”

Although the Laroui story included, “The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers” is significant in its own right, having helped the author win the a Prix Goncourt de la Nouvelle in 2013.

All the pieces included in the WWB issue were written by contemporary Moroccan writers with no book-length work currently translated into English, although that’s about to be rectified: Ramadan’s translation of Laroui’s The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers will be out later this spring from Deep Vellum.