Longlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction and one of acclaimed Moroccan short-story writer Anis Arrafai’s “favorites of 2016,” Yassin Adnan’s Hot Maroc brings something new to Arabic literature:
By Annamaria Bianco
Hot Maroc is the first and only novel by leading Moroccan journalist and poet Yassin Adnan, who has succeeded in making a unique addition to contemporary Arabic — and world — literature.
First off, in this novel set in an urban Marrakesh, the author gives his characters animal features and traits: We have Ahmad the hyena, ‘Abd al-Salam the mantis, Halima the swan, ‘Aziz the greyhound, Murad the gerbil, ‘Atiqa the cow, Bucha‘ib the elephant, al-Yazid the dog, and Rahhal Laâouina, the squirrel, the protagonist of this so-called animal comedy, which takes place on the Web. This jarring element is another mark of the book’s originality: most of the events take place on the internet or through it.
The titular “Hot Maroc” is the name of a webzine founded by the protagonist, Rahhal, with a couple of friends after university. It’s a free space where he writes articles criticizing society, intellectuals, and politicians. But as Rahhal is the anti-hero par excellence, shy and cowardly, these articles are anonymous and he doesn’t take responsibility for his words and actions. Instead, it’s the squirrel’s fault, the alter ego who will finally replace Rahhal in the end.
This dual personality seems to act as a metaphor of the alienation caused by the online society we are living in nowadays, on both sides of the Mediterranean.
Even so, the novel is still deeply tied to Moroccan history and culture: It opens with demonstrations at UNEM (L’Union nationale des étudiants du Maroc) in the 70s and 80s, and then it leads into other critical social issues, such as the wild urbanization policies in Marrakesh during the 90s, the relations between Arabs and Amazigh, Marxism and Islamism, the living conditions of African immigrants and the stigma of illegal prostitution, the clash of generations, corruption, and the weaknesses of the political system.
All these secondary stories contribute to and shape the background of cultural decay that Adnan seems to suggest from the novel’s beginning, which is full of gloomy poetry quotations from the pre-Islamic period.
If, on the one hand, this richness of themes and narrative layers makes the reading more interesting and dynamic, sometimes the result can be a bit difficult and disorienting, particularly to a non-Moroccan audience. However, Adnan’s prose is simple, made up of short sentences in Modern Standard Arabic and brief dialogues in colloquial darija, vivid and also funny. The humorous element is key. It’s a comedy, both in the modern and ancient senses of the word, where his author allows the reader a laugh off fictional lives and events in order to make us think about reality and its contradictions.
Everybody can talk about revolution and change behind a screen, but what’s next?
This book is strongly recommended to anybody who is tired of cyberbullying and fake rebels.
Annamaria Bianco holds both a BA in Comparative Languages and Literatures and a MA in Arabic and Islamic studies from the University of Naples “L’Orientale”. She was also an exchange-student at INALCO in Paris and a Banipal intern. She works as translator and journalist and is currently enrolled in a MA program in Editorial and Literary Translation from Arabic.