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By Abdellatif Laâbi, who won the Prix Goncourt for his oeuvre complète, The Bottom of the Jar is an exploration of Laâbi's childhood city in Fez, undertaken through Namoussa, his semi-fictional kindred spirit. Coupled with intimate portraits of the lives of various colorful characters filling the homes and alleyways of Morocco's Medieval capital, The Bottom of the Jar is a warm and lyrical elegy to his family and a moving glimpse into a city that he holds dear. The reader is presented with beautiful – and often harrowing – descriptions of the author's school-life at a Koranic school, his circumcision, and other rites of passage such as his trips to the hammam and his reflections on various religious feasts and ceremonies. Yet the novel is not only a personal testament of Laâbi's early years, but is a work or great social and political import; one that reflects on and evokes the charged atmosphere during the final days of French colonial occupation of the North African country, and the painful road to independence.
Watch Abdellatif Laabi and his translator, Andre Naffis-Sahely, read at the Free Word Centre in London:
Praise for Fragments of a Forgotten Genesis:
One of the most evocative portraits of Fez that has ever been written ... deserves a wide and attentive readership ... The writer has a fine eye for the telltale details of daily life, for the personality traits of colorful characters, for the labyrinthine urban layout of the town and for the mores of the period ... André Naffis-Sahely’s translation is lively and even, often, joyful."
—The Arts Fuse
The great power and subtlety of the work lies in the fine balance it strikes between that Peter Pan–like sensitivity, vulnerability and imagination, and the brutality of the real world, history and politics."
—The Daily Star (Lebanon)
Laâbi's poetic voice consistently raises a song of possibilities above the dirge of cruelty"
Fire. Germination. Birth. Blood. All these themes are burnished and boned image by image until they echo through Abdellatif's book.... Abdellatif Laâbi, as you will see, is a member of the same cell as Dostoevsky, Hikmet, Soyinka, Cervantes..."
—Breyten Breytenbach, for Rue du Retour
Fragments of a Forgotten Genesis also returns us to the shared historical beginnings of poetry and religious text, the shared tools of verse and image... Though religious texts have also been famously open to widely differing interpretations, those interpretations have tended to view themselves as corrective and final. No such finality will be possible here. The richness of imagery and slewing of the narrative in more than one direction work against any such tactic."
—Alistair Noon, Blackbox Manifold