For Bread Alone is Mohamed Choukri’s autobiography, translated by Paul Bowles of The Sheltering Sky fame, collaborated with Mohamed Choukri to write an account of Choukri’s early years of his life.
Mohamed Choukri family, like many mountain tribal community from the Atlas Mountain, came from the Rif mountain and to the port city of Tangier. Mohamed lives with his alcoholic and abusive father, his mother who sells vegetables in the market and his siblings. For meals, Choukri has to scour the rubbish bins for food. He is soon drawn to the underworld of petty thieves, smugglers and prostitutes and lived his life in the fringe of society.
All part of the books are written in dialogues. Even Choukri’s own thoughts are such.
Thus she holds him over my head when she wants her own way. My glance upwards at her was dictated by my fear. I began to eat without appetite. My love for her is bound up with my hatred for him. I ceased to eat. He came in. Now the fear is really with me. An instant ago I was imagining his existence. But now here he is, as real as the dish of repulsive tripe on the Taifor. – page 80
I like the beginning of the book as reader learned about the horror of his life, abused by his father, always hungry and live in filthy condition. I could also sense deeply the feeling of Choukri fear of his father and what he meant when he said he hated and wished his father dead. Then the book goes downhill from there as every page becomes a chronicle of
Choukri’s whoring experience, stealing, smuggling then whoring, being a peeping tom… the book seems to lose its focus and instead of the central theme of “For Bread Alone” about survival and perseverance, it was “For Sex Alone” for lack of a better word (as one commentator in Amazon.co.uk said). The book was banned in Morocco from 1983 to 2000. A glimmer of hope shows up when Choukri met a man who taught him the Arabic alphabets and he resolved to pursue a better way of living.
Mohamed Choukri is one of North Africa’s most controversial and widely read authors. At the age of twenty he decided to learn to read and write classical Arabic. He went on to become a teacher and writer, finally being awarded the chair of Arabic Literature at Ibn Batuta College in Tangier. The story of Choukri’s life is continued in Streetwise.
Choukri’s life story is truly amazing. From a illiterate to learning to read and write at 20 and became the nation’s well loved writer, is truly an amazing feat. I just wish his autobiography could be a bit restraint and dignified, even if he had lived a dog’s life, it could have made an awe inspiring read. Unfortunately it is not to be.
Please hop over and read Stu@Winston’s Dad brilliant review.
About the Writer:
Mohamed Choukri (Berber: Muḥemmed Cikri, Arabic: محمد شكري), born on July 15, 1935 and died on November 15, 2003, was a Moroccan author and novelist who is best known for his internationally acclaimed autobiography For Bread Alone (al-Khubz al-Hafi), which was described by the American playwright Tennessee Williams as ‘A true document of human desperation, shattering in its impact’.
Choukri was born in 1935, in Ayt Chiker (Ayt Ciker, hence his adopted family name: Choukri / Cikri), a small village in the Rif mountains, in the Nador province.
For more of Mohamed Choukri, click here
Another read for Middle Eastern Challenge
Paperback. Publisher: Telegram Books; 2nd Revised edition edition (22 Jun 2006), originally published 1966; Length: 213 pages; Setting: Tangier, Morocco . Source: Westminster Library. Finished reading on: 28th June 2011. Translated by Paul Bowles.