7 November 2020

Lotfi Akalay: Les Nuits d'Azed (2016)

Lotfi Akalay (1943-2019) was a journalist who, for instance, published a short story in installments in Charlie Hebdo. Les Nuits d'Azed is his first novel, although he's perhaps better known for his work on Ibn Battûta (1304-c.1368), a pioneer world traveller born in Tangiers.

What we have here is a mise en abyme, or story within a story, and that mise en abyme, although rambling and seemingly losing the plot (what plot?) fits together nevertheless, but then the real meaning is the message, which is essentially feminist.

This is Morocco, and everyone, including the women, are sex-obsessed, yearning for more and indifferent ways (including homosexuality), maybe particularly sodomy whether hetero or homo, and yet this isn't a novel of sixties or seventies experimentation. And almost everyone (and not only but especially the law) is corrupt.

This is a kind of take on One Thousand and One Nights, with Azed, the narrator of the tales, fending off having sex with Kamel – who has just fucked his many wives and then divorced them, cast them adrift into a male-dominated, virgin-worshipping phallocratic society – where perhaps their only future is to be prostitutes. But why did she agree to marry Kamel? 'For the [sake of the]  women', she says.

Many authors are discovered quite by chance, such as browsing in libraries, bookshops – especially disorganised second-hand ones, in my experience: the important thing is the randomness, the lack of alpha order – but perhaps above all in France because of its huge numbers of boîtes à lire. I got this one from a boîte à lire, although I can't remember where, which is annoying as I like to know the provenance of a book, to have at least an inkling of its history. But nada – particularly frustrating as this is one I'll keep and mentally note the author. In an odd way, it's rather special.

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