Reviews — From the November 2013 issue

Winds of Revolt

The poetry of Middle Eastern uprising

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Discussed in this essay:

The Rule of Barbarism, by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by André Naffis-Sahely. Archipelago Books. 146 pages. $12 (paper).

The Bottom of the Jar, by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by André Naffis-Sahely. Archipelago Books. 232 pages. $17 (paper).

Toward the end of The Bottom of the Jar, a memoir of growing up in the city of Fez, the poet Abdellatif Laâbi recalls the moment of his political awakening. It is 1955 and the Moroccan independence movement has caught fire, spreading across the country and hastening the end of the French protectorate established in 1912. The official press blames the disturbances on outsiders and terrorists, but no one is fooled. Piecing together news reports with what they see and hear in the streets, Laâbi’s family find they are living through one of history’s turning points:

We discovered a country, with cities and diverse populations, a north and a south, an east and a west, and that the whole of it was bent back like a bow, overcome by the same worries, knocking on the same door, hoping for salvation, bleeding for the same cause, committed to making the same sacrifices. One magic word summed up all the expectations and the refusal to wait any longer for their realization: istiqlal! The walls of our Medina were festooned with slogans scrawled with charcoal, where the word “independence” was prominently featured . . . Demonstrations took place every day and were quickly repressed by the security apparatus. The police stations in Nejjarine and Boujeloud were filled to capacity.

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is poetry editor of The Paris Review and teaches comparative literature at Brown University. His last article for Harper’s Magazine, “Undelivered,” appeared in the February 2011 issue.

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