From a review of Muhammad Zafzaf’s The Elusive Fox, trans. Mbarek Sryfi and Roger Allen, that can be read in full at Qantara, “One rule for them.”
The ′60s generation of US writers was shaped by a Morocco that emerged in the writings of William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Paul Bowles and many others. This Morocco was frightening, welcoming, exotic, hallucinatory and completely &Primenew&Prime. It was a space not just to be read, but written.
These works inspired young travellers and coastal Morocco swelled as a popular destination for American and European counter-cultural drifters, hedonists, artists and others.
This, of course, did not go unmarked by Morocco′s artists and writers. Muhammad Zafzaf (1945-2001), the twentieth century′s &Primegodfather of Moroccan literature&Prime, was, in the 1960s, a young writer, a student and later a Casablanca high-school teacher.
Rife with contradiction
The book highlights many of the divisions and contradictions of the &Primeglobal&Prime counter-cultural movement, as staged in small-town coastal Morocco. In the opening pages, Ali meets a tough, &Primetomboyish&Prime Moroccan woman. He′s looking for a sleep and she tells a hotel clerk that Ali can share her room. &PrimeI′ve an extra bed.&Prime
Contradictions are immediate. The clerk forbids her to share her room with an unrelated man, threatening her with expulsion if she does. When she argues that the European hippies do it, he tells her &PrimeAll the boss cares about is money.&Prime As to why she can′t: &PrimeYou′re a Muslim woman.&Prime
This female lead, Fatima Hajjouj, first appears strong and brave and willing to transgress almost any rule of sexual and body politics. This is how she remains around European hippies and village peasants.
Poverty is also appears to be a different experience, depending on whether you′re European or Moroccan. Ali′s poverty as a high-school teacher makes it almost impossible for him to move around the country. Meanwhile, the &Primepenniless&Prime European hippies might be broke, but still have enough money to buy alcohol and hash and always enough to keep moving.
&PrimeThey′re all that way,&Prime one character says. &PrimeThey don′t have a penny, but they still travel. I don′t know how they do it. A month or two later, they′re sending you postcards from somewhere else in the world.&Prime
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