Something Strange, Like Hunger: A glimpse into Moroccan society and normalised traumas
This posthumous collection of fourteen translated short stories by feminist Moroccan author Malika Moustadraf immediately captures the reader’s attention with intense descriptions and imparted thoughts.
Stepping into a world that is both familiar and at the same time different, the translated stories shed light on specific aspects of Moroccan society and how the patriarchal system is entrenched, not only by men but also occasionally by women, who wittingly or unwittingly play into the script set by men and in turn influence the younger generation into another cycle of overt subjugation.
"It is through the most intimate or lonely moments that a connection is made or severed"
The book’s first story, The Ruse, centres on a discussion between two sisters.
One of the sisters is planning to get a virginity certificate for her daughter who is about to be married.
What the mother does not know is that her daughter works in brothels.
The mother’s first reaction is to turn her daughter out before hymen restoration surgery is suggested to prevent shame from befalling upon the family, and for the wedding to proceed as planned. While the daughter is spared societal repercussions, the lingering thought that such surgery was a necessity in a patriarchal society resonates more than the wedding celebrations.
By contrast, Delusion narrates how one woman forged her destiny by marrying a Christian Frenchman against her parents’ wishes, justifying her reason for not marrying a Muslim by stating that her residence in France would pave the way for her family’s eventual relocation. The brother’s rage at the deception mingles with his hypocritical attitude towards women.
Notably, Just Different narrates the hardships of a possibly transsexual character who is a prostitute and is refused the freedom to identify with the sex the person chooses.
The violence in this story is particularly graphic, as is the flinging of shame and abuse upon the character by the father and by members of society.
Religion is deeply embedded as one of the pillars upon which the abuse against women is justified, and the abusers elevate their status, at least within the eyes of the general society, for adhering to the social stereotypes which are rarely questioned.
Yet within the confines of one’s homes or lives, experiences map out different itineraries for both the abused and the abuser, the exploited and the exploiter.
In Thirty Six, a father who sexually exploits and abuses women exhibits disgust at his daughter’s menstruation onset, instructing the woman he was sleeping with to attend to her.
A fight ensues the next morning between the woman and the father. “Get out, whore! Women keep the fires of hell burning bright!”
The daughter, who witnesses the fight, says, “I can guess what will happen next: he’ll go into the bathroom, wash, then he’ll turn toward Mecca and say, ‘I prostrate myself with holy intention, offering an extra prayer to Allah.’”
Other stories dealing with sexuality, marriage and poverty equally portray various measures of violence. Raving clearly illustrates the double standards regarding women’s sexuality – the expectation from men that women take pleasure in sex while simultaneously slandering them for their desire.
A Woman in Love, A Woman Defeated narrates the protagonist’s shame at recollections of her preparations for her marriage while recalling that she was merely a transaction for her father. “What about you, Dad, aren’t you embarrassed that you married me off when I was still just a kid with pigtails? You made a fat profit that day, didn’t you, getting me married – or should I say selling me off.”
For readers unfamiliar with the author’s work and the cultural context, the book also provides a detailed insight into the author’s life and the story anthology produced in this collection.
The latter explains the unfamiliarity which might come across in reading this book, as well as pointing out instances where the translation might not be conveying a clear meaning through the text due to cultural differences.
This collection does not make for a light read. Despite the brevity of most stories, the content is not easy to digest.
It is through the most intimate or lonely moments that a connection is made or severed. Amid the masks reserved for society, Moustadraf’s characters are living turbulence in specific circumstances which are perhaps relatable only to them in terms of personal experience. But woven within the society of Casablanca, these fictional lives are a glimpse into normalised trauma.
Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law.