In the book “La Belle de Casa,” a Congolese author explores the realities of life for immigrants, especially immigrant women, living in present day Morocco.
By Sarah Goodman
Rabat – Congolese author In Koli Jean Bofane addressed an intimate gathering at Rabat’s Bistrot du Pietri on Thursday, November 29. Bofane’s 2018 book “La Belle de Casa” recounts the murder of a young Congolese woman on the streets of Casablanca.
“I knew Rabat, I knew Marrakech, I didn’t know Casablanca,” said the Belgium-based writer, describing his thoughts before beginning the book. “Casablanca is a city of the twenty-first century with its turpitudes: the rich are very rich and the poor are very poor.”
Bofane first encountered Casablanca in twenty-first century fashion via Google Maps, exploring the city’s streets and neighborhoods through the computer. After completing the first 160 pages of “La Belle de Casa” from Belgium, he relocated to Casablanca, where he spent three months living in the city’s “quartier Cuba” and walking the streets where his novel takes place.
“For writers, [everything] starts with intuition,” he said.
Speaking to Morocco World News, Bofane reflected on what he referred to as “literary analysis,” or a mode of reflection and inspection beyond the day to day snapshots which other media provide. “Literature is a tool to express more,” he said. “We have the time to elaborate and study things close up, to really reflect. It’s really a question of time in some ways.”
When Ichrak, a beautiful young Congolese woman, is discovered dead, all of the “Derb Taliane” neighborhood ignites with suspicion and gossip. The novel opens as another young Congolese immigrant, Sese, reports the murder in a spartan police station, where policemen are playing dominos and “waiting for a crime to be committed.”
Although the novel’s opening sentence announces a murder, the author was emphatic that “La Belle de Casa” is not a police novel. Ichrak’s death sparks a subsequent police inquiry and a deeper look at the various characters and societal forces implicated in her death.
The intersections of poverty, racism, and gender feature prominently in “La Belle de Casa,” and they also are themes the author grappled with in earlier works, such as “Pourquoi le lion n’est plus le roi des animaux” (1996) and “Mathématiques congolais” (2008).
Additionally, the theme of diaspora and global migration are central to Bofane’s writing. He was born in 1954 in Mbandaka in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Due to the political turmoil in protracted sectarian violence, Bofane now lives in Belgium with his family.
Bofane also noted that Morocco is a nation of diaspora, as over 5.5 million Moroccans are estimated to live abroad. However, Morocco is now positioning itself as a transit and destination country for trans-African migrants.
“We need a country like Morocco on the African continent,” he said.
Contemporary Moroccan photographer Hassan Hajjaj took the photograph on the book’s cover. Hajjaj’s pattern-rich, color-saturated style reflects a hybridity of North African and African traditions, similar to those expressed in “La Belle de Casa.”
The event was coordinated with the Casablanca-based bookstore, Livremoi, which hosted a similar conversation with Bofane one night earlier, on November 28.
A plaque in the cafe’s enumerates the other authors who have graced Pietri’s previous literary panels, including the celebrated Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun.