Friday, April 27, 2012
Television is very educating. Every time somebody turns it on, I go into the other room and read a book.
The succulent's edge. Quayle Street, Sandy Bay. January 2012.
This Blinding Absence of Light by the Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun is a very dark book, in more ways than one. Its narrative is essentially a reconstruction based on the testimonies of the former inmatse at Tazmamart, a Moroccan secret prison for political prisoners that operated with the harshest of conditions.
A hole in the middle of the desert, Tazmamart was a place where prisoners were give us subsistence level of food and water to keep them a live, but deprived them of every aspect of life, including that of light. Thus, we the reader are primarily left with the voice of a solitary prisoner, a voice all the more powerful for being draped in darkness. As one might expect, there is a starkness to the crystalline, pared-down prose. The author certainly rises to the challenge of maintaining interest in such a limited environment and utter hopelessness facing those characters held here.
Thus we are treated to a lot of interior monologue, one that renounces hope for a higher purpose. This is a book that embraces the language of Islamic mysticism. Not religious when he first arrives, our narrator faces the real version of the spiritual hell that Islamic mystics usually describe in metaphor. He escapes from his torments by following in their footsteps, imagining his way as far into his mind as his slowly decaying body will allow.
This is not a book for the faint hearted, the narrative follows twenty years of life in the most utter degradation. Horrible deaths alternate with inspired collective efforts to stay alive. Reminiscent in many ways of Solzhenitsyn One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, avoid approaching this book if you want your heart to be warmed. This is less a tribute to the human spirit, than it is a simple tale of truth.
I liked it. You might too. Recommended.