American Publication: October 9, 2012
Original Publication: 2005 in French
Format: Paperback book
“She speaks of all nights
and all women
she speaks of the sea
of waves which carry everything away
as if everything could be carried away
of waves which begin the sea again
there where the sea stopped.
She goes through the city
she walks with death
hand in hand
and her hand does not tremble…”
This slim volume of poetry is a modern-day One Thousand and One Nights set in Morocco describing the position of women within that country. It tells of the repression of people, not just women, who are poor, hungry, have little recourse as freedom of expression has been taken from them. It is about history repeating itself time and time again. Madani argues that not much has changed since the days when One Thousand and One Nights was written. In One Thousand and One Nights, the profoundly distrustful King Shehriyar vows to marry a new virginal bride each day only to behead her come morning. This continues until Scheherazade volunteers to be a bride. Her trick, however, is to start to tell the King a story and not finish. He wants to know the ending so does not behead her in the morning. The next night she finishes the story, but begins another… so this continues saving many maidens in the process.
The author, Rachida Madani, wrote this in French and it was translated to English by Marilyn Hacker. Hacker’s introduction to the poem is incredibly helpful in framing a reference for it. Rachida Madani, an activist, began writing poetry during Morocco’s leaden years. During this time, under King Hassan II’s rule, there was much political unrest and the government was brutal in it’s response to criticism and opposition. Madani’s writing, though strongly feminist evaluating the role of women in the hierarchy, is more powerfully about the corruption in the society as a whole and the repression and abuses of the government towards it’s people. Within this poem of three parts, Madani encourages a palace rebellion. She is encouraging people to protest, speak out, share their voices.
I read this as part of Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge and am happy I did. It satisfied the following requirement: read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. I’m glad I read it and feel that I learned more about Morocco and this time period as a result.