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The Simple Past came out in 1954, and both in France and its author’s native Morocco the book caused an explosion of fury. The protagonist, who shares the author’s name, Driss, comes from a Moroccan family of means, his father a self-made tea merchant, the most devout of Muslims, quick to be provoked and ready to lash out verbally or physically, continually bent on subduing his timid wife and many children to his iron and ever-righteous will. He is known, simply, as the Lord, and Driss, who is in high school, is in full revolt against both him and the French colonial authorities, for whom, as much as for his father, he is no one. Driss Chraïbi’s classic coming-of-age story is about colonialism, Islam, the subjection of women, and finding, as his novel does, a voice that is as cutting and coruscating as it is original and free.
About the Author
Driss Chraïbi (1926–2007) was born to a merchant family in French Morocco. He attended a French high school in Casablanca, followed by university in Paris, where he earned a degree in chemical engineering. Deciding to become a writer, he worked as a night watchman and laborer until the publication of his first novel, Le Passé simple (1954), which was a success in France and caused a scandal in Morocco, where it was banned until 1977. He published his next novel, Les Boucs (The Butts), in 1955—the year he married Catherine Birckel, with whom he would have five children before they divorced. In 1959, Chraïbi joined Radio France as a journalist, and in the 1970s he taught Maghrebi literature in Quebec. In 1978, he remarried, to Sheena McCallion, with whom he also had five children. Chraïbi wrote some twenty novels and collections of short fiction, including six mysteries featuring the Moroccan Inspector Ali, as well as two volumes of autobiography. He was awarded the Prixde l’Afrique Méditerranéenne in 1973 and the Franco-Arab Friendship Award in 1981. He died in southeastern France and was buried in Casablanca.
Hugh A. Harter (1922–2011) received a BA in French and a PhD in Spanish at Ohio State University, and an MA, also in Spanish, at Mexico City College, the University of the Americas. He has translated from both the French and Spanish, including two other books by Driss Chraïbi, The Butts and Mother Comes of Age. Harter was the director of the International Institute in Madrid from 1984 through 1987.
Adam Shatz is a contributing editor at the London Review of Books and a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker, among other publications. He has been a visiting professor at Bard College and New York University and a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars.
“Driss Chraïbi’s first novel, The Simple Past, was as important to Maghrebi writers as Camus’s The Stranger. It is a book that speaks with force, precision, and truth, reaching beyond the borders of Morocco to attain a universal significance. It stands in rebellion against backward traditions, against social and religious conformity, and against the father, their symbol. It is in rebellion against the French language, in which Driss would always write and which he superbly enriched.” —Tahar Ben Jelloun
“A book of unforgettable intensity, sharpness, and ferocious critical intelligence, The Simple Past mingles French and Arabic and possesses an incantatory lyricism and a rhythm that are all its own. The music of storytelling is matched with a physicality and a nervous energy of expression that cries out with both sorrow and laughter.” —Pierre Assouline
“One of the most distinguished writers of his generation.” —Mustapha Hamil, Review of Middle East Studies