By Wafa Idmessaoud
By Wafa Idmessaoud
Agadir – Born during a drastic famine in the Rif in 1935, Mohamed Choukri migrated with his parents to the city of Tangiers in 1942 where he lived most of his life. He held a variety of jobs—such as a shoe shiner, a smuggler, a greengrocer, a male prostitute, among others—to supplement his tyrannical father’s weak income. In 1955, at the age of twenty, Choukri managed to procure a place at a school in the town of Larache, where he finally decided to take up reading and writing. Accordingly, he managed to pull himself out of the vicious circle of dehumanization and ended up becoming a teacher at a high school in Tangiers. Later, he became one of the most well-known and widely-read writers in Morocco and overseas. His early experiences provided him with material for his first and successful project: Al Khubz Al Hafi (For Bread Alone), which was written in 1972 but not published in Arabic till 1982.
During the last year of his life, Mohamed Choukri suffered from throat cancer, which compelled him to spend several months in Rabat’s military hospital. Nevertheless, he continued to embrace the company of his colleagues, such as Kamal Al Khamleeshi, Hassan Najmi, and Ahmed Berish, till the end of his life. This is apparent through his telling them tales and spreading a mood of joviality and optimism, even on his deathbed. On his last night, Choukri suffered an onslaught of pain causing an internal hemorrhage that took his life on December 13, 2003.
He passed away after composing a splendid collection of novels initiated by his masterpiece: Al Khubz Al Hafi (For Bread Alone, 1972), Zaman Al Akhtaa (Time of Mistakes, 1992) and Al Souq Al Dakhili (The Inner Market, 1985); two collections of short stories: Majnoun Al Ward (Madman of the Roses, 1979), Al Khaima (The Tent, 1985); a play: Al Saada (Happiness, 1994); a series of his reflections on literature: Ghiwayat Al Shahrour Al Abyad (The Temptation of the White Blackbird, 1998); and his delightful accounts of his encounters with foreign writers, namely Paul Bowles, Jean Genet, and Tennessee Williams.
As an eminent Rifain writer, Choukri lived to tell a tale that many people would rather not hear: in particular, those who are not accustomed to the type of outrageous truth in the Moroccan literary field. Due to this, the author was accused of being pornographic, delinquent, and homosexual. Al Khubz Al Hafi was banned shortly after its publication in many countries where there are restrictions of freedom of expression. In fact, that autobiography made Choukri the Moroccan writer most subject to attacks and negative criticism. Still other critics refuted the accusation that the work is a “succès de scandale.” For example, Mohamed Berrada considers Al Khubz Al Hafi an “important achievement in the field of Moroccan literature because it concretely shows a lot of issues which constitute common concerns for writers and critics.” Likewise, Najib Mahfoud assumes that autobiographies are given a certain value through the degree of reality they aim to impart to the reader, and any work of art should be estimated on the basis of artistic norms, not by ethical ones.
More provocatively for many disagreeing critics, Choukri tends to break deep-rooted taboos and unveil the unspoken truth without regard to masks of language, social traditions, or habits and values of religion. Obviously, Al Khubz Al Hafi implicitly shows that ignorance, impoverishment, marginalization and the lack of moral principles are all factors leading humans to street life and delinquency.
Edited by Katrina Bushko