Ben Barka Lane
Mahmoud Saeed; translated by Kay Heikkinen
published 2013 • 5.25" x 8" • 276 pages
ISBN 9781566569262 • paperback • $15.00 •
“Originally published in Arabic in 1970, the novel’s theme of survival from remnants of colonial misery, anguish and dejection, during a time of disorder from political change, is still current today, particularly following the Arab Spring. Mahmoud Saeed’s tale of infatuation, reprisal and treachery, with evocative descriptions of North African scenes and life, entices us. Also, his writing style will remind readers of Camus’ celebrated The Stranger. The wonderful lines, such as “Can you discover a forest the first time you walk through it?” will surely beguile readers into a second perusal. Highly recommended.”
—Historical Novel Society
"Published in Iraq in 1970 and subsequently banned, Saeed’s novel appears for the first time in English. In 1964, Iraqi political refugee Sharqi arrives in al-Mohammediya, Morocco, to teach high school and finds a country in turmoil, following the exile of leftist opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka (for whom his street is named), and an oppressive government in the hands of King Hassan II...The rhythm and pace of the prose...gathers momentum as the characters come to life and the stakes of their ordinary decisions play out in a hyper-politicized society."
FIRST ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF AWARD-WINNING NOVEL BANNED IN IRAQ
In Ben Barka Lane we see the Morocco of the late 1960s through the eyes of a young political exile from Iraq—its beauty and misery, its unforgettable people. In this contemporary classic, Mahmoud Saeed offers us a unique portrait of a time and place, and a tale of the passion, politics, vengeance, and betrayal that take place there. “A landmark of the modern Arab novel,” in the words of one critic, Ben Barka Lane is now, at last, in English translation, as compelling today as when first published.
Sharqi, a political refugee from Iraq, comes to Morocco in 1964 and finds work as a high-school teacher in the small city of al-Mohammadiya. But Morocco proves no safe haven: the country is in political and social turmoil, as the state suppresses the recent leftist opposition led by Mahdi ben Barka. The opposition is scattered and the Hassan government is cracking down everywhere. Al-Mahdi himself has been forced to flee and has disappeared; rumor claims he has been killed in France. Sharqi just intends to keep his head down, and ride out the chaos. But he meets Habib, a friend and comrade of al-Mahdi, who, despite a severe heart condition, is considered a threat by the government. Habib is living in a kind of internal exile; his residence is now restricted by the government to this small town. Under these difficult circumstances, Sharqi and Habib form a close bond of friendship. But this brief respite ends with the appearance of Ruqayya, a beautiful young woman whose mysterious motives will divide them, and set off a chain of events and intrigue that no one could foresee.
Mahmoud Saeed, a prominent Iraqi novelist, has written more than 20 novels and short story collections. He was imprisoned several times and left Iraq in 1985 after the authorities banned the publication of some of his novels, including Ben Barka Lane (1970), which later won the Ministry of Information Award in 1994. He is an Arabic language instructor and author-in-residence at DePaul University in Chicago. He and his work have been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Al Jazeera, and The New Yorker.
Kay Heikkinen received her Ph.D. from Harvard University and now teaches Arabic language at the University of Chicago. She is the translator of In the Time of Love by Naguib Mahfouz.
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