This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun
Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale
The New Press, New York, 2002
Tahar Ben Jelloun has created a heart wrenching novel from a real life narrative. This novel tells the story of 23 men held prisoner in a desert prison after a fail coupe against the king of Morocco. Finally, after nearly 20 years, international pressure forced the Moroccan government to release the few surviving men.
Working closely with one of the survivors Ben Jelloun, in simple, clear language, tells the story of the “non-existent” prison, the prison guards and the few who survived. The narrator describes the horrific conditions of the three by six foot cells, the physical and mental deprivation the prisoners suffered and the unbelievable will and endurance that kept a few of them alive. He describes his thoughts, his dreams and the choices he made in order to stay alive. This is a harrowing book, I can not say I enjoyed reading it but I’m glad I did.
The hardest and most unbearable silence was that of light. A powerful and manifold silence. There was the silence of the night, always the same, and then there was the silence of the light. A long and endless absence.
Outside, not only over our pit but above all far away from it, there was life. You could not think too much about it, but I liked to imagine it so as not to die of forgetfulness. Imagine, and not remember. Life, the real one, not that dirty rag blowing across the ground, no, life in its exquisite beauty, I mean in its simplicity, its marvelous banality: a child smiling after tears: eyes blinking in too bright a light; a women trying on a dress: a man sleeping in the grass…page 51/52