By Lery Hiciano
Rabat – With his unfortunate passing on June 4, we are now afforded the opportunity to look back at the life that Juan Goytisolo led and his love of Morocco that enticed him to spend his final 20 years in the Kingdom, surrounded by what he called his “tribe.”
Although Spanish by birth, by the end of his life he identified strongly with the North African country, going as far as to say that he was from Jemaa el Fna.
He left Spain at the age of 18, after years of suppression at the hands of Franco had taken its toll on him. His father’s arrest at the hands of the Republican government and his mother’s death in a Francoist air raid influenced him greatly, and he often would return to 1930s or ’40s Spain in his writing.
He moved to Paris, where he met famous writers and philosophers that would later influence his life, like Sartre or Guy Debord. He first arrived in Marrakech in the ’70s, and he soon learned to speak Arabic so that he could understand the storytellers at the square he visited everyday.
Until his final days he would still routinely visit Paris and Barcelona to see his children and grandchildren.
His most famous work, “Count Julian,” is a controversial and moving work that upon release was viewed as staunchly anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic. It was so despised by Franco’s regime that it could not be printed in Spain.
In the novel, the protagonist lives in Morocco, much like Goytisolo, and declares war on Spanish culture, religion, tradition and language.
He was often influenced by the stories he would hear and read from Morocco to Iran.
In an interview he once said, “I consider at least two of my works to be mudéjar, heavily influenced by Arab and Persian literature. The Virtues of the Solitary Bird, inspired by the mysticism of St. John of the Cross, and Quarantine, which requires a good knowledge of Muslim eschatology. I’ve learnt a lot about the Spanish language by learning spoken Arabic.”
He never stopped working, contributing and writing. He was one of the first people to publicly predict the far-reaching effects of the 2011 Arab Spring that took the region by storm. And he played the role of an active journalist as he travelled around the region reporting and interviewing people involved in the uprising. About the period, he said, “The effects of Arab Spring will extend through the present decade and nothing will ever be the same again.”