Tahar Ben Jelloun, the prize winning Moroccan novelist and essayist, author of books including The Sand Child,The Sacred night, and This Blinding Absence of Light, has been talking, at the Turin book fair about his latest novel L’Ablation. The novel which is already a best-seller in France, and has just been published in Italy, tells the story of man who has to have his prostate removed – a taboo subject, according to Ben Jelloun, who himself had a form of prostate cancer, though one which did not require surgery.
Interestingly, according to Ben Jalloun, it’s mainly been women who have bought the book in France, where the writer now lives. “I didn’t think the book would interest women much, but actually it’s mainly been women who have bought and read the book, because they discover things about men in it. It’s true that no-one has really written about this, and what really happens. I’ve had letters from female readers telling me that thanks to my novel they’ve understood what has been happening to their partner / husband or sometimes Father.”
The novel is unflinching in its description of the effects of the surgergy, both physical and psychological – helped by the research Ben Jelloun undertook consulting with top urologist Professor François Desgrandchamp. Describing the book at the Cassablance International Book Salon Ben Jelloun said it was “a hard and violent text, with short, direct period, the better to describe pain”. It was inspired when a friend of Ben Jelloun’s asked him to write his story as a patient, and from there developed a novel that deals with virility, shame, and what Ben Jelloun has described as a choice between love and life: “Men are ashamed, they feel guilty when it comes to matters of sexuality, because they identify with their sexuality, but a man is more than sex, he is a human being full of complexity. One shouldn’t fall into this type of exaggeration where virility becomes the main point of a man”
Tahar Ben Jelloun was also asked about politics during his visit to the Turin Book Fair, and was equally unflinching in his response about the suffering of the Syrian people:
“They are fought by the army of Bashar al-assad, by Hezbollah financed by Iran, and by the strategy advice of Vladimir Putin to make war on the Syrian people. We have massacred in total silence, in indifference. Nobody reacts because the Americans and Europeans have done their calculations, and if it’s not their men dying they couldn’t care less. This is intolerable. Syria isn’t so far away – it’s not on the other side of the ocean. It’s a situation that worries me a lot. The Syrian people are being decimated, daily, by a criminal, but a criminal who is being helped by other criminals called Putin and Iran. It’s a suicide. It’s intolerable, but we let it happen. ”
And his reaction towards the United Nations is scathing:
“The United Nations are useless. If I had the power I’d dissolve them. They’re just there for administration, to make ambassadors, to have meetings about nothing. They can’t intervene, yet children are dying in Syria.”