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In this lyrical, hallucinatory novel set in Morocco, Tahar Ben Jelloun offers an imaginative and radical critique of contemporary Arab social customs and Islamic law. The Sand Child tells the story of a Moroccan father's effort to thwart the consequences of Islam's inheritance laws regarding female offspring. Already the father of seven daughters, Hajji Ahmed determines th In this lyrical, hallucinatory novel set in Morocco, Tahar Ben Jelloun offers an imaginative and radical critique of contemporary Arab social customs and Islamic law. The Sand Child tells the story of a Moroccan father's effort to thwart the consequences of Islam's inheritance laws regarding female offspring. Already the father of seven daughters, Hajji Ahmed determines that his eighth child will be a male. Accordingly, the infant, a girl, is named Mohammed Ahmed and raised as a young man with all the privileges granted exclusively to men in traditional Arab-Islamic societies. As she matures, however, Ahmed's desire to have children marks the beginning of her sexual evolution, and as a woman named Zahra, Ahmed begins to explore her true sexual identity. Drawing on the rich Arabic oral tradition, Ben Jelloun relates the extraordinary events of Ahmed's life through a professional storyteller and the listeners who have gathered in a Marrakesh market square in the 1950s to hear his tale. A poetic vision of power, colonialism, and gender in North Africa, The Sand Child has been justifiably celebrated around the world as a daring and significant work of international fiction.


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In this lyrical, hallucinatory novel set in Morocco, Tahar Ben Jelloun offers an imaginative and radical critique of contemporary Arab social customs and Islamic law. The Sand Child tells the story of a Moroccan father's effort to thwart the consequences of Islam's inheritance laws regarding female offspring. Already the father of seven daughters, Hajji Ahmed determines th In this lyrical, hallucinatory novel set in Morocco, Tahar Ben Jelloun offers an imaginative and radical critique of contemporary Arab social customs and Islamic law. The Sand Child tells the story of a Moroccan father's effort to thwart the consequences of Islam's inheritance laws regarding female offspring. Already the father of seven daughters, Hajji Ahmed determines that his eighth child will be a male. Accordingly, the infant, a girl, is named Mohammed Ahmed and raised as a young man with all the privileges granted exclusively to men in traditional Arab-Islamic societies. As she matures, however, Ahmed's desire to have children marks the beginning of her sexual evolution, and as a woman named Zahra, Ahmed begins to explore her true sexual identity. Drawing on the rich Arabic oral tradition, Ben Jelloun relates the extraordinary events of Ahmed's life through a professional storyteller and the listeners who have gathered in a Marrakesh market square in the 1950s to hear his tale. A poetic vision of power, colonialism, and gender in North Africa, The Sand Child has been justifiably celebrated around the world as a daring and significant work of international fiction.

30 review for The Sand Child

  1. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    This bewildering, hallucinatory book begins with the fairytale-like story of an eighth daughter who is raised by her father as the male heir he never had. No one else in the family knows the secret; named Ahmed, (s)he is dressed as a boy, treated as a boy, and speedily inducted into the ways of the patriarchy. ‘His sisters served him his lunches and dinners,’ we are told. ‘He did not allow himself any tenderness towards his mother, whom he saw rarely.’ We are being promised, it seems, a parable a This bewildering, hallucinatory book begins with the fairytale-like story of an eighth daughter who is raised by her father as the male heir he never had. No one else in the family knows the secret; named Ahmed, (s)he is dressed as a boy, treated as a boy, and speedily inducted into the ways of the patriarchy. ‘His sisters served him his lunches and dinners,’ we are told. ‘He did not allow himself any tenderness towards his mother, whom he saw rarely.’ We are being promised, it seems, a parable about the gender imbalances of Moroccan society. Ahmed gradually retires from communal life and spends hours alone in his room, staring in solitude and confusion at his naked female body. He has absorbed what seems to be a fundamental lesson: Etre femme est une infirmité naturelle dont tout le monde s'accommode. Etre homme est une illusion et une violence que tout justifie et privilégie. Etre tout simplement est un défi. To be a woman is a natural disability which everyone makes the best of. To be a man is an illusion and a violence which everything justifies and prioritises. Simply to be is a challenge. Ben Jelloun never takes the easy route when playing with these ideas. Just as it looks like he is building to a grand critique of religious authoritarianism, someone bursts out, ‘If our women are inferior to men, it's not because God says so or because the Prophet decreed as much – but because they accept their fate.’ Later, when our protagonist goes out into the streets finally presenting as a woman, she immediately comes up against male harassment and the male gaze. But even this is presented in unusually complex terms: Sortir, être bousculée, être dans la foule et sentir qu'une main d'homme caresse maladroitement mes fesses. Pour beaucoup de femmes, c'est très désagréable. Je le comprends. Pour moi, ce serait la première main anonyme qui se poserait sur mon dos ou mes hanches. Je ne me retournerais pas pour ne pas voir quel visage porte cette main. Si je le voyais, je serais probablement horrifiée. Mais les mauvaises manières, les gestes vulgaires peuvent avoir parfois un peu de poésie, juste ce qu'il faut pour ne pas se mettre en colère. Une petite touche qui ne démentirait pas l'érotisme de ce peuple. Ce sont surtout les voyageurs européens qui ont le mieux senti et le mieux évoqué cet érotisme, en peinture comme en littérature, même si derrière tout cela une pointe de supériorité blanche guidait leurs pas. To go out, to be jostled, to be in a crowd and feel a man's hand awkwardly fondling my ass…for a lot of women it's extremely unwelcome. I can understand that. For me, it would be the first anonymous hand that touched my back, or my hips. I wouldn't turn round to see which face was attached to the hand. If I saw, I'd probably be horrified. But bad manners, vulgar gestures, can sometimes have a little poetry in them – just enough not to get angry. A light touch, that would not belie the eroticism of this people. It was mainly European travellers who best sensed, and best described, this eroticism, in painting as in literature – even though, behind it all, their steps were guided by a sense of white superiority. Orientalism by way of street harassment, mediated by a transgender narrator and ultimately filtered through the gaze of a male author? You can see that there's a lot to think about in this small book. The pronouns shift and switch repeatedly, sometimes within a sentence (‘he no longer slept with the acrobats, but in the women's caravan; she ate and went out with them’). This is even more apparent in French, where even in the first-person sections the gender of the speaker is always and unavoidably marked. I read L'Enfant de sable in two one-day chunks, which was a strange experience, because the second half of the book is in many ways quite unlike the first. I see that a lot of reviewers wanted a whole novel about gender fluidity, a Maghrebi Orlando, but in fact that's not what this ends up being. Ben Jelloun's prose, always very poetic, starts to come apart, to fly off into something much more uncertain and metaphorical. To be fair, he warns you at the start. ‘This story is also a desert,’ he (or one of his narrators) says; ‘you're going to have to walk over the burning sands in bare feet, walk and shut up, and believe in the oasis forming on the horizon….’ I rather warmed to this reader-unfriendly approach. As one of his walk-ons says late in the story: Et puis un livre, du moins tel que je le conçois, est un labyrinthe fait à dessein pour confondre les hommes, avec l'intention de les perdre et de les ramener aux dimensions étroites de leurs ambitions. Anyway, a book, at least as I see it, is a labyrinth that's designed to confuse people – with the intention of losing them, bringing them out of the narrow confines of their ambitions. The play with gender identity turns into a much wider interrogation of the social violence that underpins patriarchy; and this, in turn, becomes an interrogation of the way narratives themselves are even told. At first, our protagonist's story is being told by one of the public storytellers in Marrakech (for more on these guys, see this obscure review that I wrote yonks ago); in the second half of the book, this voice is replaced, and then replaced again, as various characters relate their own opinions on what exactly happened to the central character. Are they even a central character anymore? It's hard to know who is who, and what is supposed to be taken seriously, which version of the truth we are expected to approve. Just go with it. Ben Jelloun will take you off somewhere; you might not want to go, but he'll take you anyway, and then drop you, miles from where you started, looking around in an unfamiliar landscape, full of new and strange ideas.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Zanna

    What struck me most strongly about this work is the intense male supremacy it highlights. The laws of inheritance that Ahmed/Zahra's father's deception is designed to subvert are significant, and the voice-shifting, fragmented, erased and reiterated narration of Ahmed/Zahra's experience provides an interesting perspective to embody gender conflict, but I am most haunted by the seven nameless sisters, the meagre Macabeas who, being female, are excluded from public and narrative space. Ahmed/Zahra' What struck me most strongly about this work is the intense male supremacy it highlights. The laws of inheritance that Ahmed/Zahra's father's deception is designed to subvert are significant, and the voice-shifting, fragmented, erased and reiterated narration of Ahmed/Zahra's experience provides an interesting perspective to embody gender conflict, but I am most haunted by the seven nameless sisters, the meagre Macabeas who, being female, are excluded from public and narrative space. Ahmed/Zahra's pain is murderous, driving her to suicidal thoughts and to flee her family. The sadness she describes reminded me of the 'gender sadness' Julia Serano mentions feeling before her transition. She longs to live as a woman, yet fears to give up the rights and freedoms of a man. She speaks about her tormenting conscience - but Ben Jelloun does not take this hint at feminist solidarity(?) further. She also speaks of being taught to consider herself superior to women, something difficult to unlearn. The first storyteller says that Islam is the source of the social inferiority of women, and later another character describes the Koran as a book whose words have "the force of law yet lack a woman's perspective". But the story reveals how some men will go to great lengths to maintain the concentration of economic and social power in male hands, subverting Islam and the law. Ahmed/Zahra's own authoritarian behaviour in early adulthood is particularly revealing of the consequences of patriarchal socialisation. This is a skillful and nuanced part of the story. Ben Jelloun makes careful efforts to socially place his various narrators, and perhaps I missed many of the significances of this because I lack experience of Moroccan society. However, the impression I got was that Ahmed/Zahra's story is not uncommon. While the focus on an individual (though divided) consciousness allows intense interior reflection and some character development that helps empathy, the fragmentation of the narrative suggests to me both public obsession (like the circus) and a multiplicity of people in Ahmed/Zahra's situation. Ahmed/Zahra's body is constantly referred to as a secret that will betray her, but she also has a distinct male self with whom she corresponds. This self is fascinated by her and sometimes admonishes, but never objectifies her. For most of the book, the first storyteller speaks of Ahmed/Zahra as he/him, but switches when she begins to live, still ambiguously and partly in secret, as a woman, appropriately marking a social transition. This is the last moment of clarity for me, except a few subsequent mentions of political struggle, brief and vague but intriguing. This style of writing, images flowing in succession submerged in interior reflections and unobtrusive transitions between tellers, is rarely a success for me. I find the bulk of the text unmemorable and the constant mention of dreams, death and so on wash over me as unaffecting commonplace despite its eloquence and poetry. I accummulate an overall discomfort at sexually explicit descriptions and images of illness, aging and burial, but I find it hard to make sense and meaning from these passages.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Randal Doering

    This book sucked. I've read other work by Ben Jelloun and really enjoyed "A Palace in the Old Village", but The Sand Child was miserable. The book starts out with a gripping premise, that a Moroccan man has seven daughters and really, really wants a boy. So when the eighth child is born a girl, the man decides to hell with it and declares her to be a boy, a fiction which he works hard to maintain until the end of his days. So far so good. Then the girl (whose name is Mohammed Ahmed) mopes around This book sucked. I've read other work by Ben Jelloun and really enjoyed "A Palace in the Old Village", but The Sand Child was miserable. The book starts out with a gripping premise, that a Moroccan man has seven daughters and really, really wants a boy. So when the eighth child is born a girl, the man decides to hell with it and declares her to be a boy, a fiction which he works hard to maintain until the end of his days. So far so good. Then the girl (whose name is Mohammed Ahmed) mopes around for fifty pages, complaining of loneliness, which gets wearisome. Then she decides to join the circus, and the story starts to get really interesting. Then the author chucks the whole story by saying it was just a story being told by a storyteller who has died. Some of the storyteller's listeners get together at a cafe and take turns trying to end the girl's story, since the storyteller isn't around to do it for them. The story never gets finished, and we are treated to fifty pages of patently lame storytelling. I was howling for Mohammed the girl to come back and finish her story, but it was not to be. A weak story about storytelling, this story started out with a gripping premise and just falls apart. If you want to read Ben Jelloun, try "A Palace in the Old Village," which is a much, much better book than this piece of dreck.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Haifa Grar / Mercurielle_

    She joined the circus and it all went downhill from there.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nate D

    This is a deeply strange book well beyond its unusual initial premise, that of an Islamic Moroccan girl raised as a boy to thwart sexist inheritance law. The early, fairly direct, study of social conventions and restrictions shifts as the protagonist takes on self-awareness and finds voice in the narrative. Soon, the story is overrun by sex, sexism, and sexuality, by desire and divided identity. As identity fragments, so does the narrative, as it changes hands between many tellers, some of whom This is a deeply strange book well beyond its unusual initial premise, that of an Islamic Moroccan girl raised as a boy to thwart sexist inheritance law. The early, fairly direct, study of social conventions and restrictions shifts as the protagonist takes on self-awareness and finds voice in the narrative. Soon, the story is overrun by sex, sexism, and sexuality, by desire and divided identity. As identity fragments, so does the narrative, as it changes hands between many tellers, some of whom die, disappear, contradict, or fabricate, until our protagonist is all but lost. At which point a certain blind librarian appears in pursuit of these vanishing traces. This last underscores the fascination and frustration of the novel, as any true human element and narrative cohesion is lost to in a somewhat arch and removed postmodern house of stairs. Contradictorily, this is just when Jelloun himself, perhaps appearing from behind his devices, seems to want most to reach us with pathos and political urgency. It almost works. Though flawed, it's a fascinating book, and a wholly singular study of Islamic North Africa.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Aron Grimsson

    I hated this book. It was on the reading list of a course I was taking so I had to finish it but it was the closest I have ever come to being tortured. Seriously, only buy this book if it is to give to a terrible, terrible enemy.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Naori

    Almost nothing happened in this book. I never give ratings this low, and I hate to do that, but honestly, it felt like the author was struggling with the concept of non-consensual gender re-assignment and then just wrote an entire book about someone spiraling out of control because of it. There are hundreds of thousands of books and films about people who are assigned a certain gender at birth and then struggle later on, individuals who are forced through this as an adolescent; there are also ex Almost nothing happened in this book. I never give ratings this low, and I hate to do that, but honestly, it felt like the author was struggling with the concept of non-consensual gender re-assignment and then just wrote an entire book about someone spiraling out of control because of it. There are hundreds of thousands of books and films about people who are assigned a certain gender at birth and then struggle later on, individuals who are forced through this as an adolescent; there are also extensive books coming out of this region about families socially transforming one of their female children into a male in order to provide many things for the family in terms of status, social mobility, financially, etc. It is clear that in this story, that got out of hand. But it began with that occurrence, and then the rest of the book was just the main character, pretty much shut in his/her room, trying to cope with the ramifications of that. It was heavily and unrelentingly patriarchal, and not just on a cultural level but on a familial level. I found myself being swallowed up by the writing itself but not the narrative at all. However, what I will say is that I adored the way it was told. I love when in contemporary literature there is an exultation of the story teller, the bard, the local orator. This not only glorified that but also allowed for the story teller to interrupt the storytelling towards the end in a way that finally jolted you back into the plot for a moment. Not enough to change anything, but the focus of that role was so lovely for me. Again, seduced by the author's words... "This story has something of the night; it is obscure and yet rich in images; it should end with a feeble, gentle light. When we reach dawn, we shall be delivered. We shall have aged by a night, a long, heavy night, a half-century, and a few white pages scattered in the white marble courtyard of our house of memories. Some of you will be tempted to dwell in that new residence, or at least to occupy a small part of it, suited to the dimensions of your bodies. I know that the temptation to forget will be great: oblivion is a spring of pure water that must on no account be approached however thirsty you may feel For this story is also a desert. You will have to walk barefoot on the hot sand, walk and keep silent, believing in the oasis that shimmers on the horizon and never ceases to move toward the sky, walk and not turn around, lest you be taken with vertigo. Our steps invent the path as we proceed; behind us they leave no trace, only the void; So we shall always look ahead and trust our feet. They will take us as far as our minds will believe this story." (8) This is beautiful but reading it over now it seems like somewhat of an omen for what is to come in the story....Hmmm

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This was selected as a January/February group read in my Great African Reads group here in GoodReads. So of course I had not read it until now. To be fair, it isn't the easiest book to get a copy of, and I had to wait until mine came in from interlibrary loan. In The Sand Child, a father is anticipating his eighth child (and eighth daughter) so he declares that the child will be male, regardless of reality. Ahmed is raised as a man and benefits from the various perks of being male in Morocco, fr This was selected as a January/February group read in my Great African Reads group here in GoodReads. So of course I had not read it until now. To be fair, it isn't the easiest book to get a copy of, and I had to wait until mine came in from interlibrary loan. In The Sand Child, a father is anticipating his eighth child (and eighth daughter) so he declares that the child will be male, regardless of reality. Ahmed is raised as a man and benefits from the various perks of being male in Morocco, from household authority to inheritance. But he also must struggle with concepts of identity, family, and truth. That's the story as first presented, but then the novel morphs into a reflection on storytelling as the same basic story is told again with different outcomes. I'm still not quite sure I know the "actual" ending, but I also am not sure I care. The language is beautiful - the translator should win some kind of prize - and I would like to share a few bits: "I do not tell stories simply to pass the time. My stories come to me, inhabit me, and transform me. I need to get them out of my body in order to make room for new stories." "To be a woman is a natural infirmity and every woman gets used to it. To be a man is an illusion, an act of violence that requires no justification." "A book ... is a labyrinth created on purpose to confuse men, with the intention of ruining them and bringing them back to the narrow limits of their ambitions." "I am haunted by my own books." "A story is like a house, an old house, with different levels, rooms, corridors, doors, and windows. Locks, cellars, useless spaces. The walls are its memory. Scratch the stone a little, hold your ear to it, and you will hear things!"

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Pierson

    From the beginning this story is veiled – a story within a story. On the novel’s fifth page we are introduced to a ‘storyteller’ who has already begun the tale of Ahmed, a Moroccan man who is actually a woman. The temporal progression is linear at first. Through the storyteller, we hear of the woes of Ahmed’s father, whose wife has given birth to seven daughters. Determined to be the architect of his own fate, he announces that his eighth daughter is his son. Ahmed grows up with the realization From the beginning this story is veiled – a story within a story. On the novel’s fifth page we are introduced to a ‘storyteller’ who has already begun the tale of Ahmed, a Moroccan man who is actually a woman. The temporal progression is linear at first. Through the storyteller, we hear of the woes of Ahmed’s father, whose wife has given birth to seven daughters. Determined to be the architect of his own fate, he announces that his eighth daughter is his son. Ahmed grows up with the realization that ‘he’ has been privy to many things from which, as a girl, he would have been excluded. He welcomes his circumstance at first, but as he grows older its burden begins to weigh on him. The story begins to unravel, losing track of itself in both time and space through various digressions. The storyteller disappears and several listeners from his audience take it upon themselves to finish the story. They provide three possible endings along with commentary and analysis, including many frank statements that Islam punishes women and that their society is hypocritical about gender and sex. Yet despite these directly critical remarks the novel becomes overwhelmingly vague, implicit and indirect. There are multiple subplots along the same lines as Ahmed’s story: women who are disguised, or who disguise themselves as men, perhaps suggesting that gender COULD be both rigid and fluid and Islamic societies. In the end, though, the overriding statement seems to be that while it’s quite obvious to everyone that men and women enjoy inequitable privileges in this society, the problem becomes somehow unspeakable. The harder the characters search for explanations, rationalities, or plausible outcomes, the more fleeting they become, and the story slips away. I wouldn’t say this was one of those books I could read over and over, but it’s written in an interesting way with considerable skill.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Marcia Letaw

    A story is like a house, an old house, with different levels, rooms, corridors, doors and windows. Locks, cellars, useless spaces. The walls are its memory. Scratch the stone a little, hold your ear to it, and you will hear things!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    THE SAND CHILD by Tahar Ben Jelloun, tr. from the French (Morocco) by Alan Sheridan, 1985/1987. This novella is likely to be one of the oddest books I'll read in 2020. I finished it a few days ago and was at a loss how to talk about it. Still am. But I'll attempt... A man has 7 daughters, and when his wife becomes pregnant once more, he decides that even if the child is a girl, he will raise the child as a boy. He swears his wife to secrecy and bribes a midwife, and when the 8th daughter is born, THE SAND CHILD by Tahar Ben Jelloun, tr. from the French (Morocco) by Alan Sheridan, 1985/1987. This novella is likely to be one of the oddest books I'll read in 2020. I finished it a few days ago and was at a loss how to talk about it. Still am. But I'll attempt... A man has 7 daughters, and when his wife becomes pregnant once more, he decides that even if the child is a girl, he will raise the child as a boy. He swears his wife to secrecy and bribes a midwife, and when the 8th daughter is born, the plan begins... He even has an elaborate plan to fake the circumcision. The child grows apart from the sisters and assumes the role of the junior patriarch, receiving more attention and education than any other sibling. The plot begins to unravel when puberty sets in. Or does it? This entire story is narratively nested in the story of a traveling bard /storyteller. He tells this story of the 8th daughter to a group in market square, and leaves the tale unfinished, so that others pick it up and take it in different directions - some disgustingly violent, some trippy, others more mundane. Similar to the salon-style "exquisite corpse" style storytelling, or an elaborate game of "telephone". The reader is left with a confusing and amorphous maze of possibilities of what actually happened to the 8th daughter. There's an inherent queerness to the story that could probably be mined even further, but I was honestly trying to just figure out the structure and style, and how Sheridan was able to get this across in a translation of the original French! If it isn't obvious enough from the description, there are heavy Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino vibes. Borges even makes a brief appearance in one of the extended stories as the 'blind librarian'. Hard to completely recommend because I spent a good amount of the time trying to figure out what was going on 🤔 but simultaneously admiring the experimentation and wonder of storytelling arts. Ben Jelloun has a few others in translation, and I'm curious to pick them up after this wild ride.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lucinda

    I can't help but feel, after having finished the Sand Child, that at least part of the story has eluded me. I kept having the nagging sense that there was stuff referred to about which I was totally ignorant and so I couldn't pick up the allusions, be they cultural or historical or religious. This is definitely a book that requires multiple readings, if not close study. It requires excavation, a slow uncovering of all its treasures. There are two elements to the book that fascinate me most, and a I can't help but feel, after having finished the Sand Child, that at least part of the story has eluded me. I kept having the nagging sense that there was stuff referred to about which I was totally ignorant and so I couldn't pick up the allusions, be they cultural or historical or religious. This is definitely a book that requires multiple readings, if not close study. It requires excavation, a slow uncovering of all its treasures. There are two elements to the book that fascinate me most, and a third which I will mention in passing and hope someone else can perhaps pick up or fill in for me. I see shadows of this third element but cannot flesh them out. sigh. The first is the absolutely engrossing and befuddling labyrinthine structure of the narrative. Ben Jelloun is masterfully interrupting the reader's expectations on authorial voice, utilizing, in a really brilliant way, the benefits of oral tradition. His approach to this story is always done sideways. But first I should outline the core around which the novel is built. Basically a man has seven daughters and no son. God or fate has thwarted him, humiliated him. He resolves to raise this next child whom his wife is carrying as a boy, regardless of their actual sex. Alas, the child is born a girl. What happens to this boy Ahmed throughout its childhood, adolescence and adulthood? But anyways, back to my discussion on narrative. We have, at first, the story as told to the audience by a professional storyteller, who also happens to possess a notebook that contains passages from the diary of Ahmed. The storytelling slips between the storyteller's rendering and the abrupt diary passages. Also, some interjections/ objections made by the audience. And then we find out that the storyteller has died (I think), leaving the story unfinished. Three audience members (two older men and one woman) meet over a series of days to tell their ending of the story. And lastly, of the story emerges a voice that claims to have been buried within it, trapped (I think) somehow by the convoluted web that this existential drama has created. This last voice is the voice of the storyteller revived (which doesn't make sense to me?), explaining the origin of the story and how he has struggled with it, and ultimately failed it. So, yes, there are a lot of voices to contend with in this short novel, a lot of perspectives and interpretations of the central premise, the possibly impenetrable kernel of the story - often referred to within the pages of the book as the riddle. I loved these attempts to unravel the riddle, and what the different logics of each retelling/ ending tell you about the teller and the audience. I cannot think of another novel that matches Ben Jelloun's brilliance in this regard (Anyone?). The other element of the book deals, unsurprisingly perhaps, with its central riddle. The question of sex, gender, truth and politics. How our lives are necessarily corporeal and temporal (or are they?) and how that structures our possibilities and experiences. As a side tangent, there was recently a similar story told in the Canadian media of parents who had decided to raise their child 'genderless'. What does that even mean? Well, from what I could gather, they were not telling anyone the sex of their child, allowing the child to determine for themself (lacking a proper pronoun here - lol) their he- or she-ness. See the story of Storm The story was originally meant as a public interest fluff story but became the center of public debate as people reacted very strongly to it, some suggesting that the parents were traumatizing their child or ruining his/her life. Anyways, I couldn't help but think of this recent episode because it parallels the novel in some ways and, like the storyteller's audience in the novel, it captured the public's interest and imagination in a really powerful way. The fact that Ben Jelloun has so many paths for his story connects to how at its core lies a deep existential puzzle - in what ways are we indivisible from our bodies and in what ways are we not? Is it a cruel torture to raise a female person as a boy/man or the other way around? Can we imagine what Ahmed would face, how he/she would feel? There are certainly stories out there where women in some societies have passed themselves as men in order to achieve some goal - but those stories only really deal with the performative issues of gender roles, and elide the deeper questions of being male and female. The final element is the question of whether this book can be read as an allegory for colonialism, or the extent to which it might be interpreted as commenting on colonialism in some way. There is some reference throughout the book to political struggle, but these direct references are tangential (at least according to my interpretation). Still, I get the nagging sense that there is something in the view of this book as an allegory, I am just not able to piece it together. Though this book is only 165 pages, it provides practically a lifetime's worth of material to ponder/ meditate on.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    Sometimes I recognize it; sometimes I reject it. It is my finest, subtlest mask. The voice, deep, gravelly, does its work, intimidates me, and throws me into the crowd to show that I am worthy of it, that I bear it with confidence, naturally, without excessive pride, without anger or madness. I must master its rhythm, its timbre, its melody, and keep it in the warmth of my entrails. It's rare these days for me to bowled over by the quality of a story in and of itself. This entails a balance o Sometimes I recognize it; sometimes I reject it. It is my finest, subtlest mask. The voice, deep, gravelly, does its work, intimidates me, and throws me into the crowd to show that I am worthy of it, that I bear it with confidence, naturally, without excessive pride, without anger or madness. I must master its rhythm, its timbre, its melody, and keep it in the warmth of my entrails. It's rare these days for me to bowled over by the quality of a story in and of itself. This entails a balance of prose and plot and poise that inexplicably draws me along in ways of susceptibilities that I have sometimes been previously made aware of, oftentimes am caught off guard by. This is not a book that I loved, but there is a strength to it that best demonstrated itself at the beginning and the end, the middle posing an uneasy threat whose lack of resolution was likely why I rate this work higher than I am wont to do these days when someone who is not explicitly queer writes about queer themes. Jelloun's queer interrogations were likely a side effect than a cause, but in speaking of gender and its abusively vivisectional tyranny, he every so often touched upon trans experiences in ways that made me wonder whether he had done some work in interrogating his own relation to gender: what "passes", what doesn't, and what separates him from the great expanse who must often go on great journeys to discover their birthright in a world that, I hope, more often allows them to survive the process. This work is not at all straightforward to the cishet sense, and I will admit that my eyes glazed over around the 2/3-3/4 mark when the themes started tending more towards transploitation than anything else. However, there is a true intent toward interrogation of structures of poetry, theology, history, social norms, and economics through a story where a single switch between the intonation of one of two words is enough to bring about a weight of Machiavellian confusion and, every so often, revolution. I found the brief mentions of collective action and international mirrors of blighted working class neighborhoods to fall in line with this analysis, and while there really isn't much in the way of concrete resolution, there is a demonstration of awareness of how genderqueer folk are sensationally represented in contrast to what is likely to actually happen as the result of a confluence of opportunity and shame. Someone who is actually trans, and indeed actually trans and actually haling from an Arabic/Muslim culture, will have more credible evaluations of the material than I offer here, but all I can say is that Jelloun does something does something with the material that begins as a past without defining its future, and it's that future that I hope makes use of this text in order to grow something that is both more true and more free. This month has been one of slowly and surely feeling my way through various changes, more good than bad, and the one thing I've come to realize is that I have to stop restricting my celebrations of my queer identity to the comforts of my reading chair. It does me no good to still be limiting myself to a theoretical position of life, especially now when i have the opportunity to truly break out of the work-school-errands-repeat cycle that I've stuck myself within as a form of "emancipation." As such, I've pledged that, much as I have slowly but surely improved my economic worth during the last few months, I will also work on slowly but surely establishing myself on a plane of existence that I still am far more comfortable expressing online than off. Jelloun didn't spawn this resolution so much as that his work came at a convenient time for me to express these thoughts I've been cogitating on, but it's always good to note when a representation of queerness, with all its convulsive inconclusiveness, doesn't piss me off. Now all I need to do is follow through on this walking the walk and talking the talk on a more physical, mortal plane.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Wissam Hiti

    Tahar Ben Jelloun’s literary work has always been characterized by a narrative ambiguity consciously and systematically infused in his texts. His creations are the intersection of tales, legends, Moroccan rituals and ancestral myths. The originality in his writing resides in his incredible ability to build a perfect symbiosis reconciling different aspects of the Moroccan culture with daily life. The characters he creates can only exist in an imaginary world which allows them to transcend all barriers Tahar Ben Jelloun’s literary work has always been characterized by a narrative ambiguity consciously and systematically infused in his texts. His creations are the intersection of tales, legends, Moroccan rituals and ancestral myths. The originality in his writing resides in his incredible ability to build a perfect symbiosis reconciling different aspects of the Moroccan culture with daily life. The characters he creates can only exist in an imaginary world which allows them to transcend all barriers of language in order to evoke the forbidden about the body, sexuality and the situation of women. The Sand Child is no exception. The Sand Child is a novel that could be read on many levels. The deeper one gets, the more confusion they harvest. It is at first the story of a girl, that was to be brought up as a man as a means of retaliation of her father on his inability to produce an heir. The father forcefully reversed the She to a He and named the newborn Ahmed, marking the inception of a life of doubt and uncertainty. The book traces the brief existence of this boy created in all parts by his father. It is the reconstruction of an instable and ephemeral osmosis of a sand child that was robbed of his right to exist. It is the story of absolute solitude. The text trickles of an unbearable sadness and cruelty that could only signal a voyage to the realm of insanity. The story is also to be read as a parallel and a critique to the traditional Moroccan society with its fair share of hypocrisy and taboos when it comes to sexuality and its deep connection with women’s status. The novel exposes how within the traditional Morocco, the woman exists to produce a male, forever submissive to men’s will, humiliated and forced to accept her destiny. The man on the other hand uses and abuses of the power automatically conferred to him by tradition and strengthened by the socialization process. He is haunted by the perception of others and by his sexual frustration because of the violent and constant repression of his desires. The novel is most importantly a reflection on identity and the process by which it is constructed. Is one born woman or do they become one? In essence, it hides a deeper question about gender and its connection to the body. What happens when an individual refuses their body and tries to transcend it? The story of Ahmed/Zahra, designed within endless metaphors and multiple voices, is an attempt of Tahar Ben Jelloun to explore unknown layers of the gender question in a society stifled by traditions and rotting because of its hypocrisy. This paper aims to analyze some of the processes by which the gender question is addressed in the Sand Child. When Ahmed realizes his condition he first tries to accept it. He even recognizes his conflict by stating that he knew he lived in the illusion of another body. The fact that the protagonist lives as a genderless individual is important in understanding the ideological and existential conflict depicted in the book. It generates within Ahmed an anxiety that he cannot resolve. While he is aware of his ambiguous identity he is still unable to understand the enigma that constitutes his existence. Ahmed exists in the midst of that existential confusion that the reader gets the chance to live with him through the seven gates, symbols of his evolution process from birth to childhood to adolescence, marriage…Each of these stages are portrayed in violent internal clashes vis-à-vis his identity. The ultimate outcome remains the same at each stage; Ahmed is unable to resolve the dilemma that his existence constitutes. One of the most violent internal confrontation came when Ahmed got his first menstruation putting him face to face with the real nature of his body. Another violent clash was with the death of his father that drove him to assume the role of the man of the house and a complete realization of his situation. Assuming the privilege of being a man while it contradicts his physiognomy led him to perpetuate the traditional injustice towards women thus tearing his being apart from within and trying to exteriorize that pain through plain cruelty towards his mother, sisters and wife. While reconstructing the story-telling process, The Sand Child is characterized by a multitude of voices that increases as the reader progresses towards the end of the novel. From the beginning of the story the reader comes across an all-knowing narrator presented in the third person and working as an anchor in the evolution of the narrative. The storyteller on the other hand, speaks in the first person and relates the story of Ahmed using the book he gave him before his death. The protagonist, in lights of the storyteller’s words, takes a supernatural dimension that is strengthened even more with the slow involvement of the public in molding the story and adds an intangible aspect to the existence of Ahmed and his being a mistake of nature. This plurality could also be read in parallel with Ahmed/ Zahra’s increasing search for defensive mechanisms to protect his sanity. The multiple voices that come from time to time to complete the story are processes that stress on the existential crisis the protagonist was living. This intervention of the storyteller is elevated when he reports about the brief correspondence that allowed Ahmed’s masculine side to maintain a connection with his feminine side. Through these letters, Ahmed develops two distinct and separate spaces, the result of his genderlessness. These letters are vital in the sense that they represent the first space (symbolic) where Ahmed can undertake the role of a woman. This is a significant hint to help the reader understand the splitting of his personality and the upcoming identity crisis. The fact that the last chapter was entitled the Gate of the Sands is a clear hint to the end of the fragile existence of Ahmed, neither man nor a woman but an erection out of sand that is naturally bound to collapse, to disappear from existence in a stormy way, to leave without a trace. Overall, the novel could be interpreted as a metaphor to the existential crisis of the author that also serves the purpose of a collective conflict of a whole country undergoing colonial rule – the French colonization of Morocco. The protagonist tried endlessly to embrace his existence yet, as he discovers his body and his real personality, Zahra starts a rebellious act against Ahmed to reach a version of the story where she accepts the womanhood she was denied. This acceptance comes in her joining the circus and the disappearance of Malika. This acceptance comes under question when the reader realizes that Ahmed/ Zahra’s evolution process is accompanied with the absence of a space that exclusively belongs to the character. Throughout the story, the protagonist is excluded from all the spaces he tries to penetrate even for a brief lapse of time. In the end, the character is even driven from his inside because his existential crisis cannot allow the presence of two consciousness when he possesses one body. Thus the being Ahmed/ Zahra is denied the right to exist and the ending is left open for that purpose. At the end of the story, Ahmed who also happens to be Zahra does not own a real space he/she could make his/her own. She does not have a gender, nor a personality or a consciousness. These characteristics are attributes of the very conflict she embodies. The story leaves us in utter confusion when trying to define the being called Ahmed but also Zahra, a being that existed but never really existed, passed but without leaving a trail, lived as if dead and kept coming to haunt the minds and bodies of the audience through the words in his book. Zahra and Ahmed but neither of them. Zahra/Ahmed who is an incarnation of the body she could never conquer and an inlibration of thoughts and characteristics he could never embody.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    This is a weird book but it really makes you wonder about why we value boys more than girls at birth. Having three daughters I heard people say things to us like "you gonna try again for a boy?" or "oh, that's too bad, maybe next time you'll get a boy" and "I bet you are disappointed". Rude! Obviously, this book represents those people! This book is also narrated differently - with multiple narrators and the absence of the main character's voice. Good to read more than once. This is a weird book but it really makes you wonder about why we value boys more than girls at birth. Having three daughters I heard people say things to us like "you gonna try again for a boy?" or "oh, that's too bad, maybe next time you'll get a boy" and "I bet you are disappointed". Rude! Obviously, this book represents those people! This book is also narrated differently - with multiple narrators and the absence of the main character's voice. Good to read more than once.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nihal

    I liked the idea of the book, a woman raised as a man, I immediately remembered the Albanian Sworn virgins who are destined to live as men in their societies. Kinda art imitates life. But the book was way too lyrical for my taste. I literally had to read only the first lines in complete paragraph to be able to continue this relatively short book!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marieke

    I'm not sure how I am reacting to this book. It was hard to read at times for different reasons. It was also not especially enjoyable. It was hard to get through the final third and by the last chapter I got the suspicion that Tahar Ben Jalloun spent too much time reading Borges before he wrote this story. But I don't actually know anything about Ben Jalloun yet, so that may be unfair of me. I'm not sure how I am reacting to this book. It was hard to read at times for different reasons. It was also not especially enjoyable. It was hard to get through the final third and by the last chapter I got the suspicion that Tahar Ben Jalloun spent too much time reading Borges before he wrote this story. But I don't actually know anything about Ben Jalloun yet, so that may be unfair of me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Olga Kowalska (WielkiBuk)

    A magical, arabian tale about the power of words and the infinite power of storytelling. Different times, different voices recreating one legend of a girl hidden in a boy's body. However it is not about her at all - nothing is true, nothing is sure - it is life and creation that emerge from the tale itself that are truly significant. A magical, arabian tale about the power of words and the infinite power of storytelling. Different times, different voices recreating one legend of a girl hidden in a boy's body. However it is not about her at all - nothing is true, nothing is sure - it is life and creation that emerge from the tale itself that are truly significant.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    Read as part of my Modern Languages degree at Durham University for the module 'Introduction to Francophone Literature and Culture' Read as part of my Modern Languages degree at Durham University for the module 'Introduction to Francophone Literature and Culture'

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ayse Sasmazel

    Amazingly weird, beautiful and powerful.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jalila

    Damn. This started off so good. I loved the first half. The second left me with a headache and so many questions. Not even in a good way. 😑

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

    Is it night in the night or still day in the night? Something trembles within me. It must be my soul.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    My boyfriend came back from Morocco with this book for me to read. The main idea of the novel is great, inequality between men and women in the Arab society. The story seems somehow original and interesting at times. However, the authors overly-complicates it. And I’m not referring to the way it’s written, the used words make the book easy to follow. It’s more the narrating style: switching between one subject to another, adding a bit of philosophy here and there, and a lot of mystery (too much My boyfriend came back from Morocco with this book for me to read. The main idea of the novel is great, inequality between men and women in the Arab society. The story seems somehow original and interesting at times. However, the authors overly-complicates it. And I’m not referring to the way it’s written, the used words make the book easy to follow. It’s more the narrating style: switching between one subject to another, adding a bit of philosophy here and there, and a lot of mystery (too much I’d say). I was curious to see how it ends, but he didn’t want to make up his mind. Instead, he presented a parallel (quite shocking) ending, but ensured the reader is not the real one. One thing that bugs me: he wrote this book in more than 2 years, even though it’s quite a light book. But then again, it’s a fact Moroccan people love to take their time :)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Konstantin R.

    [rating = A] One of my: Best Books of the Year (for 2017) It is as if Jorge Louis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Italo Calvino came together to write a social and postcolonial critique! The main story is simple enough (and then again, it never really is); it is about a girl who is born to be raised as a man. This happens and she is named Ahmed (note that her/his name starts with the first letter of the alphabet). As she/he grows, Ahmed begins to discover that she/he likes the fact of being ma [rating = A] One of my: Best Books of the Year (for 2017) It is as if Jorge Louis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Italo Calvino came together to write a social and postcolonial critique! The main story is simple enough (and then again, it never really is); it is about a girl who is born to be raised as a man. This happens and she is named Ahmed (note that her/his name starts with the first letter of the alphabet). As she/he grows, Ahmed begins to discover that she/he likes the fact of being male, for the privileges and such. This is where the social critique of women's subservience and domination comes into play (though at the same time some believe that he is actually blaming them for their own difficulties and placement in society, yet that is a bit harsh). And then the father dies and Ahmed is the head of the household; then he decides to get married to a very specific girl (his lame and seizure-prone cousin) for the authorial purpose of contrasting the twosome (now "husband" and wife). Jelloun does this to show the outward torment of Fatima (Ahmed's new wife) and Ahmed's internal struggle with his/herself. This is the shift in the story where the mirror (used to the duplicity of Ahmed) comes into focus, or perhaps I should say out of focus! Of course with all of this, the narrative itself is accomplishing some impressive acrobatics. The omniscient narrator (taking the form of several different storytellers, Ahmed's uncle, and other very similar persons, not to mention Ahmed himself) who fragments the story purposefully in order to achieve the idea that language and tales (legends/stories) have an ever-changing quality to them; they are continually manipulated ["I like to invent my memories according to my listener's face"] and this creates a whole new story (kind of like Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler). A wonderful and brilliantly written work. The power of storytelling is really on display here, not for the plot but what the plot could and can be.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Emm

    I found the first 2/3rds of this book to be enthralling! The characters where fascinating and complex, particularly Ahmed/Zahara and his wife, Fatima. I responded most passionately to Ahmed's journal entries and mysterious correspondences in which he recounts his struggle with gender identification, the process of becoming aware of his female body and his disgust with the stereotypes of his cultural context. The french is beautiful and simple in these moments. The only reason I didn't give this b I found the first 2/3rds of this book to be enthralling! The characters where fascinating and complex, particularly Ahmed/Zahara and his wife, Fatima. I responded most passionately to Ahmed's journal entries and mysterious correspondences in which he recounts his struggle with gender identification, the process of becoming aware of his female body and his disgust with the stereotypes of his cultural context. The french is beautiful and simple in these moments. The only reason I didn't give this book 5 stars is that I found the narrative frame to be disruptive. I was frustrated as the story moves from the voice of Ahmed to other story-tellers; I was so attached to his/her voice and ponderings that I mourned the loss of it and felt the story somewhat adulterated as others recounted their versions of the ending. But this is a purely emotional critique and, had I known more about Borges or had an easier time following the transitions, I might have enjoyed it more. As it was, I didn't finish reading the last three chapters out of frustration. Perhaps with a second look at this text (and perhaps in translation...shame!) I might respond differently to this aspect. These frustrations aside, this was one of my favorite books that I have read in French. I am absolutely itching to read La Nuit sacrée, which won Ben Jelloun le Prix Goncout and which concludes the story of Ahmed in his own voice!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mona Mokhliss

    i had a hard time at first understanding the ending of it , and differentiating between the characters . the beginning is really the typical narration that you find in tahar ben jelloun's novels ; not structured and aimless ..more like poetry than narration of a story .after that the story evolvs to be structed ;following a more structured form , in terms of both that characters and the chronoligical order (not sure if my point is clear here) but when zahra becomes aware of what her father did a i had a hard time at first understanding the ending of it , and differentiating between the characters . the beginning is really the typical narration that you find in tahar ben jelloun's novels ; not structured and aimless ..more like poetry than narration of a story .after that the story evolvs to be structed ;following a more structured form , in terms of both that characters and the chronoligical order (not sure if my point is clear here) but when zahra becomes aware of what her father did and decides to leave her home then the story just seemed like chaos to me .. definitely have to read it again .

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sara Fischer

    I loved this book. It had so much to love: long, frequent, passionate and desperate monologues; bizarre, dream-like flights; gender flux; strange settings that I could conjure up from memory, and totally odd ones that only exist in my mind; multiple endings and narrators; contradiction; and special guest stars. This book was challenging and beautiful. The overt culturally-established gender bias is a beautiful allegory for the French colonization of Morocco. The balance between power and powerle I loved this book. It had so much to love: long, frequent, passionate and desperate monologues; bizarre, dream-like flights; gender flux; strange settings that I could conjure up from memory, and totally odd ones that only exist in my mind; multiple endings and narrators; contradiction; and special guest stars. This book was challenging and beautiful. The overt culturally-established gender bias is a beautiful allegory for the French colonization of Morocco. The balance between power and powerlessness shifts, and traditional divisions are upset.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    the idea of this book, pretty cool. a rich man with seven daughters decides that the eighth will be a boy, correct equipment or not. and of course the boy grows up mad spoiled frets about his death and there you go. not that original, but not that uninteresting. but a lot of the book gets lost in translation. my professor worked to give us a more accurate translation but i think the kick dissolves en anglais...read it in french

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jarod

    The surrealism felt contrived, and I found the book seemed generally superficial. The premise is laid out, but the social context is not explored, and the protagonist's identity crisis is not even very nuanced. The surrealism felt contrived, and I found the book seemed generally superficial. The premise is laid out, but the social context is not explored, and the protagonist's identity crisis is not even very nuanced.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    The premise was really interesting, for me it brought up a lot of questions that were kind of glossed over. The language however was beautiful and I walked away with a lot of quotables. Great story overall.

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