The complete translated short stories of innovative cult-classic Moroccan writer Malika Moustadraf (1969–2006) — published earlier this month in the US — appears today in the UK, from Saqi Books.
Although Moustadraf produced just one novel, a short-story collection, and a handful of additional stories during her short life — and although her work fell out of print shortly after her death — she was never forgotten by the Moroccan literary scene onto which she stamped her powerfully voiced and crafted stories, which, she told the poet Mouna Ouafik, she wanted “to be a slap in the face for all those politicians and pimps who claim to be so virtuous and pure . . . the ones who turn our dreams into frustrations and sorrows.”
In the stories, Moustadraf is both unflinching and deeply sympathetic, portraying cruel and boorish characters and repulsive moments of our frail human bodies, with sympathy, humor, and a wide range of registers.
In her introduction, Alice Guthrie attempts to reconstruct a little of Moustadraf’s life. She writes: “She loved music and was great friends with Nass el-Ghiwane founder Larbi Batma. She loved the color blue. She read widely, and was fascinated by the French ‘carnal artist’ ORLAN. “
Among the aesthetic traits shared by Nass el-Ghiwane’s music and Moustadraf’s writing are their interest in the supernatural and folk stories, and the way in which they play with register. John Schaefer writes in MERIP that while Nass el-Ghiwane’s lyrics were in darija, they “intentionally used old-fashioned phrases, often drawn from folk songs, religious poetry and the elite oral poetry genre called malhoun. They also drew on traditional melodies and rhythms, seeking to incorporate many of the nation’s diverse idioms — Berber music, Arab sounds and the Gnawa of black former [enslaved people] — and to draw from rural and urban styles.”
Moustadraf was ill most of her short adult life, and skimped on essential medications in order to self-publish her first and only novel, a decision she later regretted. Still, she left behind a small, vibrant corpus of literary work in Arabic, and now English.
Selected short stories:
Malika Moustadraf: “Just Different,” tr. Alice Guthrie
Malika Moustadraf, “Lousy,” tr. Alice Guthrie
Malika Moustadraf, “Thirty-Six,” tr. Alice Guthrie
Malika Moustadraf, “Claustrophobia,” tr. Alice Guthrie