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Driss Chraïbi (1926-2007)


French-Moroccan novelist, considered to be the father of the modern Moroccan novel. Chraïbi's work drew heavily on his own life. Central theme in his novels was the clash between different cultures, the East and the West, Arab and French. Chraïbi's range of style changes from epic to comedy. He was one of the pioneers of Maghrebian writers to explore the oppression of women and children in an Islamic, patriarchal society.

"En dépit de mon instruction occidentale, je continuais de vivre, d'agir et de juger par paraboles, à la manière de ces conteurs publics qui s'installent dans un coin de rue. . ." (from Le passé simple, 1954)

Driss Chraïbi was bon in El Jadida (formerly Mazagan, French Morocco), a town near Casablanca. His father was a wealthy tea merchant, who perceived Western education as a means to modern Morocco. Chraïbi attended Koranic school as a young boy. When the family moved to Casablanca, Chraïbi continued his studies at the French Lycée. At age of nineteen he went to France planning study chemical engineering and neuropsychiatry. He also  studied engineering at the ESPCI ParisTech in Paris.

After abandoning his studies, Chraïbi worked in odd jobs and traveled throughout Europe and Israel, where he spent two years. Eventually Chraïbi settled in France with his first wife, Catherine Birckel, and children, and devoted himself to literature and journalism. In 1954 Chraïbi began writing for the National Radio and Television Broadcasting System. Chraïbi's relationship with his father was strained for many years. When his father died in 1957,  Chraïbi  did not attend his funeral.

Chaïbi taught North African literature at the University of Laval-Quebec in Canada for a year, had an affair with his student, but returned then to France in 1971. In 1978 Chraïbi married Sheena McCallion, a Scots woman. From his first marriage he had five children. Chraïbi's works have been translated into English, Arabic, Italian, German, and Russian. Chraïbi remained in France until his death. He died on April 2, 2007, in the village of Crest, where he had lived since the mid-1980s. His body was brought back to Morocco and buried in in the Cimetière des Chouhada in Casablanca.

As a novelist Chraïbi made his debut with Le Passé simple (The Simple Past), which came out in 1954, two years before Morocco gained its independence. The book arose much controversy because of the inflammable political situation in the North Africa. Chraïbi was criticized as a traitor to the Arab world and French conservatives saw that the book revealed the reason for French presence in Morocco. The protagonist in the novel is a young man, Driss, who revolts against the patriarchal traditions of Islamic society . Banished from home by his father. Driss begins his wandering on the streets. Finally he returns to home only to find that his mother has committed suicide in his absence. The novel ends with Driss's departure for France. Driss is an outsider in his own country, oppressed by his family and the feudal, religious traditions. Chraïbi was so disturbed by critics, that he publicly rejected the novel in 1957, but later regretted his action. The book was banned in Morocco until 1977.

Chraïbi's next novel, Les Boucs (1955, The Butts), was set among the Arab immigrants living in poverty in France. One of the characters was based apparently on François Mauriac; the narrator is an Algerian writer, whose hopes to find understanding among his countrymen is hindered by their illiteracy. The book was ahead of its time Chraïbi was the first North African writer to examine the issue of migrant workers, before the subject became an issue of widespread debate. L'âne (1956) was a tragic story of a rural barber, Moussa, who finds his prophetic mission and death in changing Morocco. Succession ouverte (1962,  Heirs to the Past) continued the story of Ferdi Driss, who returns to Morocco for his father's funeral. Driss has spent sixteen years in France, but now re-establishes his relations with his mother and brothers. Gradually Driss realizes how old family values have given way to the ideas of the West. "Remember, Driss? Would any of us have dared to start dinner before he got back, whether it was after midnight or dawn? You remember, don't you?" Un ami viedra vous voir (1967) was set in the modern bourgeois Paris. La civilization, ma mère (1972, Mother Comes of Age) was about the self-realization of a housewife in Morocco shortly before and during World War II. The protagonist is a cloistered Arab mother, who becomes a symbol of Third World liberation. Arab feminists have acknowledged Chraïbi 's sympathetic portraits of women with respect.

Between the years 1981 and 1986 Chraïbi published an epic Berber trilogy, in which the last two novels explored the Arad-Islamic conquest of Morocco and Andalusia. The first, Une enguête au pays (1981, Flutes of Death), introduced the humorous Inspector Ali and his superior, two policemen from the metropolis, who are on a detective mission in the Berber mountains. The poverty-stricken clan, the Ait Tafelman, rule their little barren territory; they are bearers of ancient wisdom but also dispossessed and backward. "The man was standing in the sun, hands clasped around a staff almost as tall as he. His chin rested in his hands. He was ageless and, maybe mindless. Immobile. In front of him, a spit-shot away, there was a red mule, equally immobile, eyes wide open, tail hanging down like a piece of unbraided hemp, and two skeletal sheep trying to graze on hay as dry as plywood. Aside from this faint evocation of grass, there was nothing    naked stone which which squeezed in on the enclosure where the man and his beasts seemed petrified into eternity." The clash between village life and city bureaucracy is presented in a comical light. The policemen go on with their investigation with bureaucrsatic obedience without much belief i n public service. La Mère du Printemps (1982, Mother Spring) was a historical and mystical story of Azwan, the ancient tribal leader. The final novel, Naissance à l'aube (1986, Birth at Dawn) focuses on the modern descendant of Azwan, who is a day porter at the train station and a card shark.

In L'inspecteur Ali (1991, Inspector Ali), a domestic comedy, the author-protagonist, Brahim Orourke faces troubles with his new novel and with his Scottish wife and two sons after returning to his home village. Ali's adventures continued in L'inspecteur Ali á Trinity College (1996) and L'inspecteur Ali et la C.I.A. (1998). In Une place au soleil (1993) Chraïbi played with the conventions of the detective novel. In the story Inspector Ali reestablishes justice in Morocco. L'homme du livre (1995,  Muhammad: A Novel), a poetic novel about a man named  Muhammad, who became the prophet of Islam, made a distinction  between Islam and Islamic fundamentalism. The work won Morocco's Grand Prix Atlas in 1996.

For further reading: The Facts on File Companion to the French Novel by Karen Taylor (2006); The Encyclopedia of World Literature, Vol. 1, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Postcolonial African Writers, ed. by Pushpa Naidu Parekh and Siga Fatima (1998); L'Oeuvre de Driss Chraïbi by L. Benchama (1994); Contemporary World Writers, ed. by Tracy Chevalier (1993); Contestation et révolte dans l'uvre de Driss Chraïbi by H. Kadra-Hadjadji (1986) - See also: Mohammed Dib

Selected works:

  • Le Passé simple, 1954 - The Simple Past (translated by Hugh A. Harter, 1990)
  • Les Boucs, 1955 - The Butts (translated by Hugh A. Harter, 1983)
  • L'âne, 1956
  • De tous les Horizons, 1958
  • La foule, 1961
  • Succession ouverte, 1962 - Heirs to the Past (translated by Len Ortzen, 1972)
  • Un ami viendra vous voir, 1966
  • La civilisation, ma mère, 1972 - Mother Comes of Age (translated by Hugh A. Harter, 1984)
  • Mort au Canada, 1974
  • Une enquête au pays, 1981 - Flutes of Death (translated by Robin Roosevelt, 1985)
  • La Mère du Printems, 1982 - Mother Spring (translated by Hugh Harter, 1989)
  • Naissance à l'aube, 1986 - Birth at Dawn (translated by Ann Woollcombe, 1990)
  • D'autres voix, 1986
  • L'inspecteur Ali, 1991 - Inspector Ali (translated by Lara McGlashan, 1994)
  • Les aventures de l'âne Khal, 1992
  • L'homme du livre, 1992 - Muhammad: A Novel (translated by Nadia Benabid, 2008)
  • Une place au soleil, 1993
  • L'inspecteur Ali à Trinity College, 1996
  • L'inspecteur Ali et la C.I.A., 1998
  • Vu, lu, entendu: mémoires, 1998
  • Une Enquête au pays, 1999 (edited by Gareth Stanton)
  • Le monde à côté: récit, 2001
  • Lhomme qui venait du passé: roman, 2004
  • Une vie sans concessions, 2009 (edited by Abdeslam Kadiri)

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