The Dutch literary world has reacted with shock to the passing of the popular controversial writer who refused to be censored while shattering taboos.
Rabat – Naima El Bezaz, Dutch-Moroccan author of several best-selling books that confronted taboo topics head-on, passed away on August 8. After battling depression for decades, she decided to take her own life.
El Bezaz was an outspoken writer who approached sensitive topics with a brutal honesty and directness that saw her lavished in praise from the Dutch literary community.
Naima El Bezaz migrated to the Netherlands in 1978 at age 4, following her father who had migrated earlier and worked in a factory in Alphen aan de Rijn, a Dutch town known for its bland, suburban nature.
She emerged as a literary talent in 1995 when she was just 21 after she published her debut novel “The Road North.”
The book was a hit and received the Jenny Smelik-award, which honors Dutch-language books that provide a fresh perspective on the lives of ethnic minorities in the Netherlands.
Her first book became part of the Dutch “student literature list,” a list of Dutch literature that experts recommend students to read as part of their education.
Her second novel was published in 2002. Titled “The Devil’s Mistress,” the book explored mythology and folklore in the Arab world with a particular focus on the element of fear and reverence surrounding Jinn demons.
In her book, El Bezaz explored taboo concepts like black magic, traditional Islamic expectations of womanhood, and universal perceptions of love, lust, and betrayal.
Criticism and depression
The book was well-received, but the controversial topics covered in her fictional story resulted in her receiving death threats, which sent Naima El Bezaz into a deep depression.
Her third book, “The Rejected,” published in 2006, covered the topic of depression in a personal and touching manner. El Bezaz decided to avoid publicity following the book’s launch.
The impact of depression on her life led her to write her fourth novel, “The Happiness Syndrome,” in which she described the fictionalized life of a young Dutch-Moroccan woman dealing with depression. Following the publication of the book in 2008, she spoke openly about her depression on a prominent Dutch television show.
In 2010 she wrote “Suburban Women,” the book that would make her a household name in Dutch literature.
The autobiographical novel explored life in multi-cultural Dutch suburbia, through the eyes of a Dutch-Moroccan woman. El Bezaz’s book comprised 38 short stories that explored preconceived and taboo notions in Dutch society, the book was well received and became a hit in the Netherlands.
Witty and fierce
Naima El Bezaz published a sequel to the book in 2012, followed by “In Service to the Devil,” a novel deemed the Dutch “Devil Wears Prada,” covering the life of a young female journalist who starts her career at a beauty magazine.
El Bezaz’s witty but fierce and confrontational style was exemplified by her appearance at the 2003 Cairo Literary Festival. A translator refused to introduce her by her last name, as it resembled the Egyptian Arabic word for breasts, and instead introduced her as Naima El Khalid.
After her introduction, she told the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, I was just introduced as Naima El Khalid, but that is not my last name.”
As the crowd fell silent, she continued: “My name is El Bezaz, I know that means ‘breasts’ here, but I don’t care. It is my name, and I am proud of it,” she stated to a round of applause.
A variety of Dutch authors and literary critics have highlighted her impressive oeuvre and the legacy she leaves behind. Her books will continue to be well-read by Dutch youth and her voice will be greatly missed with the Dutch literary community.
“You were an amazingly witty and sweet person, always surprising. I will miss you tremendously,” stated Khadija Arib, speaker of Dutch Parliament and fellow Dutch-Moroccan.
Naima El Bezaz will be remembered for her provocative voice that provided Dutch society with a deeper understanding of the lives of Dutch-Moroccan women. Survived by her husband and two daughters, even in death she continues to bring awareness to the demons people with depression face on a daily basis.