'Mockingbird' by Hafid Bouazza

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“There’s no place like homelessness,” says author Hafid Bouazza who rejects the label ‘immigrant writer.’ His imaginative style of wordplay is indisputably on show in his story for Radio Books.


In 2001 when Hafid Bouazza wrote the Dutch National Book Week Essay ‘Een beer in bontjes’ (A Bear in a Fur Coat), he produced his own definition of a Moroccan-Dutch writer: ‘Someone who walks with a slipper on one foot and a wooden clog on the other; and that’s not easy.”
Bouazza was born in 1970 in the small village of Oujda in northeast Morocco near the border with Algeria. At the age of seven, his family joined his father who was working in The Netherlands. They lived in Arkel, a small town in the south where they were the only Moroccans.

Baroque words
When he was seventeen he moved to Amsterdam to study Arabic language and literature. His 1996 debut collection of short stories ‘De voeten van Abdullah’ (Abdullah’s Feet) played with the traditions of his native country and earned him the prestigious E. du Perron Prize. Critics praised his ‘florid style, with baroque word compositions and unique linguistic structures.’

“There sits my father: on a shaky wooden divan, in the zebra light of the barred sun over the thatch roof, a red Koran in his hands, white-turbaned, a bookish frown on his forehead, scrawny, shrunken, wrinkled, alive, as if he were made of the same material as the stick lying at his side: a Pinocchio in the dusty workshop of my memory… Shades of traditional shame haunt me, intent on preventing me from writing an autobiographical story.”

“I turn adverbs into adjectives simply to heighten the effect,” Bouazza says of his writing. “Virgil did the same kind of thing. I’m a great believer in strong images. But I’ve noticed that some people find that kind of thing irritating.”

Forbidden love

His lyrical and exotic 2003 novel ‘Paravion’ brought him a wider readership and the Flemish Golden Owl Literature Prize. The story begins in a village in the valley of Abqar, where the women stay behind with their children when their men leave for faraway Paravion. This name is a mistake: the villagers who have stayed at home believe the ‘par avion’ on the airmail envelopes to be the name of Amsterdam.

Bouazza’s writing combines elements of the Arabic classic ‘One thousand and one nights’ with 19th century Dutch writing. He has also translated Arabic poetry into Dutch and written new translations of plays by Shakespeare and Marlowe.

For Radio Books Bouazza tells a mysterious tale of forbidden love. His hallmark use of rich language can be found throughout, as in his short but vivid description of the main character:

“Weeping-willow fronds of black locks, fraying black clouds of eyebrows and heavy-lashed eyes, stubble on the taut jawline like the frayed edges of a bookmark: Noral could be described as repulsive, but his charming flood of words blinded one to the mire of his unkempt appearance. There was an air of something fabulous about him…”

‘Mockingbird’ by Hafid Bouazza was translated by Michael Blass, in collaboration with the author. An English version of ‘Abdullah’s Feet’ translated by Ina Rilke was published by Headline Review in 1999.

The series Radio Books is an initiative of the Flemish-Dutch Huis de Buren in Brussels, in association with the Flemish radio broadcaster Klara and Radio Netherlands Worldwide.