The things we do for food…

Book Review: For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri(ISBN: 9781846591310)

Country: Morocco

I chose “For Bread Alone” by Mohamed Choukri as my book for Morocco because it is considered a classic of modern Arabic literature. The book was first published in Arabic in 1973 under the title “Al-Khubz Al-Hafi,” and was later translated into English by Paul Bowles. It was also banned in several Arab countries due to its sexual explicitness.

The book is a semi-autobiographical work that tells the trials and tribulations of Ahmed, which mirror Choukri’s childhood and youth growing up in poverty in Tangier, Morocco. Ahmed, the narrator, faces abuse, destitution, and desperation, and runs away from home to find his way in the world, relying on his own resourcefulness and resilience for survival.

While the writing style is not the issue, the book’s content made it a difficult read for me. Despite the hardships Ahmed faced, his misogyny, voyeurism, and attitude towards women made it hard for me to root for him. Although he suffered at the hands of an abusive father and witnessed the murder of his brother by his father, the grittiness of his situation and his lackadaisical attitude were off-putting. Poverty is a difficult subject to talk about because it looks different for everyone, and perhaps that is why this book could be appealing for some. Although it does not romanticize poverty, I’m unsure if it was written for a privileged audience to “experience” real poverty. However, what I liked about the writing was that it did not embellish. The writing style is very matter-of-fact, and the author does a wonderful job of painting a realistic picture for us. Unfortunately, it was one that I couldn’t stomach.

When I was making my MENA reading list, I had shortlisted two authors for Morocco: Mohamed Choukri and Tahar Ben Jelloun. Both are critically acclaimed, and it was difficult for me to choose which author to read. Tahar Ben Jelloun has been nominated for the Nobel Prize and writes primarily in French. Mohamed Choukri’s life was very inspiring, and reading about him learning to read and write at the age of 20, then going on to become an influential figure in the Arabic literary world, was fascinating. Given the choice again, I would choose Mohamed Choukri once more, but perhaps another book from his oeuvre.