Poetry and Imagery in Abdellah Taïa's 'Another Morocco'

Taïa is a writer whose talent shines brightly enough to illuminate the difference between an imitator and an original.

Another Morocco: Selected Stories

Publisher: MIT Press
Format: Paperback
Price: $14.95
Author: Abdellah Taïa
Translator: Rachael Small
Length: 168 pages
Publication date: 2017-03

After last year's phenomenal Infidels Abdellah Taïa returns with his first short story collection translated into English. Unlike Infidels, Another Morocco largely tells stories from the life of the fictionalized Abdellah (the central character in many of Taïa's work) who, like Taïa, is a Moroccan writer and Parisian expatriate coming to terms with his homosexuality. Another Morocco (gathered from two previous French-language collections) makes clear once again that Taïa is a writer whose talent shines brightly enough to illuminate the difference between an imitator and an original.

Two indispensable themes in every work Taïa has produced thus far are the power of cinema and imagery, and the power of the Mother. From Salvation Army to Infidels, the Mother is ever-present. Whether it is Slima in the latter, or M'Barka is his other works, the son-mother dynamic wields a potency unlike any other in his characters' lives. Even in a story entirely unrelated -- about meeting the writer Starobinski -- Taïa ends with her name, her pride in Abdellah: "M'Barka must be proud of me."

In this collection, Taïa also returns to his profound love and appreciation for cinema. It's Abdellah the author's undeniable love for movies that is always a gem of his fiction. His deep appreciation for the imagery, performance, art, and emotion of movies imbues his writing with a colloquial tone many novelists can only ordinarily imitate ("Bread and Tea"). Whether seen through the eyes of Abdellah the character or not, Taia's love for movies can't be mistaken. He knows them and understands their importance in how we define ourselves and understand others.

Whether writing of countless kung-fu classics or 1983's grim gay film, The Wounded Man, Taia celebrates their everyday power: "[Kung-fu films] were all alike, but that never spoiled the pleasure of reaching the end -- after many adventures, 'Good' triumphs and the hero walks off victorious and alone." Of the liberating effect of The Wounded Man, Taia writes: "Patrice Chéreau's film, in the same tumultuous and brutal way it took hold of me that night and has remained forever in my mind, is extreme in the way it depicts the exacerbation of romantic feelings, extreme in the way it reveals how sex dominates the body."

In fact, the body itself -- one's own body, the family body, and the national body -- is the third theme in both this collection and Taia's other works. "From One Body to Another" is more poetic than prose and an unparalleled standout in the collection. It's short, but packed with astounding power. In it, Taïa says more about men and women and bodies and privacy than two dozen academic theses on the subjects. He illustrates the power of art to help illuminate these universal elements far more powerfully than many wasted pages of modern academe. He reiterates his talent effortlessly and reminds us why he is one of the most underrated authors of our time.

A few moments later, her father joined his little Eve in her preferred mode of dress… I watched and watched. And suddenly, I found myself in a different hamam, full to the brim, too noisy… This was how I came to understand that women were much more tolerant than men, much freer. I got the message and, as I left the hamam that night, unwashed… I smiled at the little six-year-old girl, with her naked and lovely body, murmuring 'Thanks' under my breath.

"The Only Mirror" continues this meditation on the body and on intimacy. In it, Taïa writes an ode to himself simultaneously divorced of eroticism and intimately rewarding. It is Taïa at his best -- an assortment of poetry and imagery that combines the individual body and the family body and knowing oneself both through and in contrast to each. It's a theme throughout all of the collection ("She inhabited us and we inhabited her. We'd slip under her skin and she would slip under all of ours," page 91).

Taïa writes about sex, about women and men, and their habits and incompatibilities with an appreciation and understanding that is rarely encountered anymore. He doesn't share the sexual anxiety that might prevent his American peers from writing so candidly. Perhaps it's his education in France, perhaps it's his upbringing in Morocco, or most likely it's both.

"A Night with Amr" details the experience of being gay and foreign without the insufferable need to lecture that many modern writers would have injected. Taïa shares the experiences of many Western-born writers -- both from the experiences of being a gay man and an Arab man -- and finds a way to produce remarkably thoughtful, subtle art. He isn't polemical; he doesn't have to disguise an absence of talent with inordinate navel-gazing or philosophizing. He's talented enough to allow his words to speak for themselves.

In his epilogue to the collection, Taïa tells us: "I've placed the bulk of what I think of myself and of the world into books…. What now? Where can I put the rest, everything that I'll never write, never say?" For a writer as talented as Taïa in a time as much in need of his voice as we are today, one can only hope we're still a long way from the moment when he has no more to say.

Please don't ad block PopMatters.

We are wholly independent, with no corporate backers.

Simply whitelisting PopMatters is a show of support.

Thank you.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.