This Blinding Absence of Light

Ben Jelloun, Tahar. This Blinding Absence of Light. Translated by Linda Coverdale. New York: New Press, 2002.

Reason read: This one was chosen a little off schedule. I needed something for the Portland Public Library 2018 Reading Challenge for the category of a book that has won an International Dublin Literary Award.

This book was a hard, hard , hard read. Based upon true events, it is the story of an inmate of the Tazmamart Prison. Aziz was a soldier who took part in a failed assassination attempt on King Hassan II of Morocco. Hassan ordered his political enemies to be held in an underground desert concentration camp where they were kept in 6 x 3′ cells devoid of light or proper ventilation. Aziz and twenty-one other prisoners locked away without proper food or sanitary conditions. Many men went insane or died from uncontrolled illnesses and starvation. After nearly two decades in captivity, only four survived their experience. Because Ben Jelloun takes Aziz’s experiences and fictionalizes it with a first person narrative the story becomes even more intimate and heartbreaking.
If you are ever wallowing in your own pathetic cesspool of pity, try barricading yourself in a darkened room with only a hole to piss and crap in, a ceiling less than five feet from the floor, no heat or air conditioning with only a bucket of water too filthy to drink and starchy food too filled with maggots to eat. Or, if you are short on time just read this book. Your little life can’t be as bad.
Here is the heart of the story, “The hardest, most unbearable silence was that of light” (p 51).

Lines that stopped me short (and there were a lot of them), “What does a man think when the blood of other men runs down his face?” (p 6), “I felt death making itself at home in his eyes” (p 12), “Strangely enough, becoming time’s slave had set him free” (p 29), “It was a question of chance: you tell yourself you have plenty of time, you save a few books for later…and forget to read them” (p 68), “That night I tried again to sleep on the bed. It was just too comfortable for me” (p 181).

Author fact: Ben Jelloun has also won the Prix Maghreb award in 1994.

Book trivia: This Blinding Absence of Light won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2004.

Nancy said: Pearl said This Blinding Absence of Light is “a difficult, soul-destroying read” (p 162). Interestingly enough, someone on Wikipedia said prisoners were not “actively” tortured. I find this really interesting. The decision to withhold light and food IS a form of active torture. True, these people were not tortured with acts resulting in pain but they faced starvation to the point of eminent death. I’m guessing the author of the Wiki page has never been hungry to the point of starvation; has never gone without light; has never experienced confining and unsanitary conditions for an extended period of time or faced the threat of scorpions stinging them in the dark. As Ben Jelloun said, “the entire body had to suffer, every part, without exception” (p 3).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “North African Notes: Morocco” (p 162).


Marching Out

March was one of those weird months. A few Nor’Easters. A few miles run. A few books read. We had two school closings in back to back weeks so that helped with the reading, but not the run. I finished the St. Patrick’s Day Road Race just two minutes off my time last year. Considering I didn’t train (again) I’m alright with that. There’s always next year! Here are the books:

Fiction –

  • The Good Son by Michael Gruber
  • Roman Blood by Steven Saylor
  • White Man’s Grave by Richard Dooling
  • Witch World by Andre Norton
  • Cards of Identity by Nigel Dennis

Nonfiction –

  • All the Way Home by David Giffels
  • Slide Rule by Nevil Shute

Series Continuations –

  • Coast of Incense by Freya Stark – to finished the series started in honor of her birth month in January.
  • Entranced by Nora Roberts

Early Review for Librarything –

  • Oneiron by Laura Lindstedt (started)
  • Infinite Hope – Anthony Graves

Poetry –

  • New and Collected Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz (not finished)

Fun – I’m not finished with either fun book so I won’t list them here.