Leaving Tangier

by Tahar Ben Jelloun, translated from French by Linda Coverdale

Published by Arcadia, March 2009


Leaving Tangier deals with the problem surrounding illegal immigration – in this case from Morocco to the European mainland. It is Ben Jelloun’s hope that the system will be radically overturned; by tackling the root cause of poverty and investing in Morocco in order to create work for its citizens so that they do not have to leave and risk their lives for futures that are not guaranteed.

Tangier, in the early 1990s: young Moroccans gather regularly in a seafront café to gaze at the lights on the Spanish coast glimmering in the distance. Facing a future with few prospects in a country they feel has failed them, their disillusionment is matched only by their desire to reach this paradise – so close and yet so far… not least because of the treacherous waters separating the two countries and the frightening stories they hear of the fates of would-be illegal emigrants. Azel, the protagonist, is intent upon leaving one way or another. At the brink of despair he meets Miguel, a wealthy Spanish gallery-owner, who promises to take him to Barcelona if Azel will become his lover. Seeing no other solution, and although he has a girlfriend to whom he is promised, Azel agrees to Miguel’s proposition and thus begins a different kind of hell for the young Moroccan – shame and self-disgust at his own helplessness gradually overcome him and he finds himself once more in a hopeless situation. Azel and others like him, including his sister, begin to wonder if the reality of life in Europe will live up to their dreams.


Tahar Ben Jelloun is one of North Africa’s most successful post-colonial writers. Arrested for taking part in student demonstrations in Casablanca in the 60s and interned in an army camp for 18 months, it was literature that helped him through this period, during which he said he discovered repression and injustice. It was also during this time that he wrote his first poems. Ben Jelloun finally sought exile in Paris in 1971 after a literary review for which he worked was banned. A victim himself of the state’s attempts to hinder freedom of expression, his novels denounce oppression by the state and religion, and he has spoken out against racism on many occasions.

Linda Coverdale is an award-winning translator. She has translated many classic works of modern French literature into English, including Roland Barthes, Emmanuel Carrere, Marie Darrieussecq, Annie Ernaux, Hervé Guibert, Sébastien Japrisot, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Phiippe Labro, Yann Queffélec, Jorge Semprun and Patrick Volodine.



Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersintranslation/supportedtitles/leavingtangier/

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