Tahar Ben Jelloun

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About Ben Jelloun in Arabic.
About Ben Jelloun in French.

Tahar Benjelloun
Born in Fez, Morocco to a shopkeeper and his wife in December of 1944, Tahar Ben Jelloun is one of North Africa’s most successful post-colonial writers. Winner of France’s Prix Goncourt, Ben Jelloun moved at eighteen from Fez to Tangier where he attended a French high school until enrolling at the Université Mohammed V in Rabat in 1963. It was at the university where Ben Jelloun’s writing career began. Exposed to the journal Soufflés (Breaths ) as well as the journal’s founder, poet Abdellatif Laabi, Ben Jelloun completed his first poems, publishing his first collection, Hommes Sous Linceul de Silence, in 1971. After completing his Philosophy studies in Rabat, in 1971, Ben Jelloun immigrated to France. In France, he attended the Université de Paris, receiving his Ph.D. in psychiatric social work in 1975. Along with providing material for his dissertation, La Plus Haute des Solitudes, Ben Jelloun draws upon his experience as a psychotherapist for his creative writing. His second novel, La Reclusion Solitaire (later Solitaire), is a fictionalized account of some of his patients’ dysfunction which was written in 1976. Between 1976-1987 Ben Jelloun was regularly published and received awards, but it was not until his novel L’Enfant de Sable, (later translated as The Sand Child) that he became well-known and recognized, all of his novels after The Sand Child were translated into English. The sequel toL’Enfant de Sable, La Nuit Sacree or The Sacred Night is the work for which he received his most notable award, the Prix Goncourt in 1987. Ben Jelloun now lives in Paris with his wife, Aicha, and his daughter, Merieme.


The Sand Child, 1985
The use of language is an interesting factor in Ben Jelloun’s work. Critics have maintained that Ben Jelloun is catering to a French audience. After all, although Ben Jelloun is Moroccan and hence Arabic is his native language, he chose to write in French. Likewise, in his novel Les Yeux Baisses, a young Moroccan girl becomes enamored with the French language and wishes to be a French writer. Some say it is difficult not to parallel this character’s situation with Ben Jelloun’s. Ben Jelloun simply declares, though, “When I started to write it came normally to write in French… I feel freer when I write in French.” From this statement and others such as “Arabic is my wife and French is my mistress; and I have been unfaithful to both,” it is obvious though that bilingualism is an integral part of his life as well as a theme in his works. Regardless of Ben Jelloun’s inclination towards French or lack thereof, he is quite clever in incorporating languages into his writings. For instance, in La Nuit Sacree, he refers to a woman waiting on people in the restroom as L’Assise which in French means “the seated woman” and which in Arabic is translated into gellas, the title given to women who sit and wait on those in the restroom. This use of duality of languages adds to the complexity and sophistication of his pieces.

Moroccan Culture

Although the language for some readers may be an obstacle, others argue that it is Ben Jelloun’s incorporation of Moroccan culture into his texts which alienates readers. Situations unfamiliar to his audience may be difficult to relate to; therefore his stories may lose some legitimacy. An obvious example is that of pretending that one’s daughter is a son in order to preserve one’s property and maintain one’s prestige. Although this probably seems foreign to most, one could argue that the themes of gender identity and the way in which it relates to power and societal structure are pervasive throughout all cultures (See Gender and Nation, Third World and Third World Women). If the reader does not agree with this statement, he can simply take Ben Jelloun’s work as an entertaining tale rather than a social commentary. However, it is just this latter aspect of Moroccan incidents or references that are disturbing for some critics. Not only does Ben Jelloun write about Moroccan situations that may be seen by others as nonsensical and/or uncivilized, but he openly criticizes them. Although this has resulted in the praise by, for example, women’s groups, critics protest that Ben Jelloun defends and appeals to Europeans through stereotyping and a skewed perception of Morocco.


It has been said that Ben Jelloun is primarily a poet; therefore his writing style resembles that of a poet. His work is concise yet full of poetic images and lyrical language. Ben Jelloun is a story teller, but he also allows the reader to become involved in his magical world. Dream-like states, hallucinations, and allusions to Andre Breton and the exquisite corpse each give Ben Jelloun’s work a magical intoxicated quality. Unreliable narrators and different points of view of the same story add to the mystical atmosphere as well. Ben Jelloun ends L’Enfant de Sable with, “If any of you really wants to know how this story ended, he will have to ask the moon when it is full. I now lay before you the book, the inkwell, and the pens.” This creative space for doubt and wonder gives the piece a surrealist quality. After all, it may have simply been a fanciful tale, it may have been a true story. One is not quite sure. (See Magical Realism)

Sexuality/ Dysfunction

In light of his doctoral research on the relationship between sexuality and immigration for North African male workers in France, it is clear that Ben Jelloun is quite interested in sexuality and dysfunction. The majority of his works have the protagonist suffering from some sort of dysfunction whether it be sexual, as in, L’Enfant de Sable or more physical, as in, L’Ecrivain Public.

The Sand Child/Sacred Night

Ben Jelloun’s first book translated into English, The Sand Child, catapulted him into the literary spotlight. The themes of gender identity and a male-dominated society, of masking and storytelling, and surrealism provide the backdrop for a surreal story of secrets, sexuality and identity. The main character, Ahmed, is the eighth daughter of man without an heir. Raised as a boy, Ahmed eventually realizes she is a girl, but accustomed to her status of power as a male in Islamic society, decides to remain a man, even marrying her distant cousin Fatima. Her desire to have children marks the beginning of her sexual evolution. As a woman named Zahra, Ahmed discovers her true sexuality and her true identity. The sequel, The Sacred Night, completes Zahra’s transformation, with Zahra finding her life with a blind man named Consul.



Ben Jelloun, Tahar. L’Ecrivain Public. Paris: Seuil, 1983.
—. L’Enfant de Sable. Paris: Seuil, 1985. Translated by Alan Sheridan as The Sand Child. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1987.
—. Harrouda. Paris: Denoel, 1973.
—. Jour de Silence a Tanger. Paris: Seuil, 1990. Translated Silent Day in Tangier. London: Quartet, 1991.
—. Moha le Fou, Moha le Sage. Paris:Seuil, 1978.
—. Muha al-ma`twah, Muha al-hakin. Paris: Seuil, 1982.
—. La Nuit Sacree. Paris: Seuil, 1987. Translated by Alan Sheridan as The Sacred Night. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
—. La Priere de l’Absent. Paris: Seuil, 1981.
—. La Reclusion Solitaire. Paris: Denoel, 1976. Translated by Nick Hindley as Solitaire. London: Quartet, 1988.
—. Les Yeux Baisses. Paris: Seuil, 1991. Translated by David Lobdell as With Downcast Eyes. London: Quartet, 1993.
—. Corruption. Carol Volk (Translator). New York: The New Press, 1995.
—. L’Auberge des pauvres. Paris: Seuil, 1997.
—. Racism Explained to My Daughter. New York: The New Press, 1998.
—. This Blinding Absence of Light. New York: The New Press, 2001.
—. Islam Explained. New York: The New Press, 2002.
—. La Belle au bois dormant. Paris: Seuil, 2004.
—. The last friend. New York: The New Press, 2006.
—. Yemma. Berlin: Berliner Taschenbuch Verl, 2007.
—. Leaving Tangier. Translated by Linda Coverdale. New York: Penguin, 2009.
—. The Rising of the Ashes. Translated by Cullen Goldblatt. San Francisco: City Lights, 2009.
—. A Palace in the Old Village. New York: Penguin, 2010.


Ben Jelloun, Tahar. A L’Insu du Souvenir. F. Maspero, 1980.
—. Les Amandiers Sont Morts de Leurs Blessures. F. Maspero, 1976.
—. Le Discours du Chameau. F. Maspero, 1974.
—. Hommes Sous Linceul de Silence. Atlantes, 1970.
—. La Memoire Future: Anthologie de la Nouvelle Poesie du Maroc. F. Maspero, 1976.
—. La Remontee des Cendres. Seuil, 1991.
—. Sahara. Mulhouse, 1987.


Ben Jelloun, Tahar. Chronique d’une Solitude. Avignon, France, 1976.
—. Entretien avec Monsieur Said Hammadi, Ouvrier Algerien. Theatre National de Chaillot , 1982.
—. La Fiancee de l’Eau. Theatre Populaire de Lorraine, 1984.

Ben Jelloun, Tahar. Giacometti. Grandvilliers: Editions Flohic, 1991.
—. Haut Atlas: L’Exil de Pierres. Paris: Chene, 1982.
—. Hospitalite Francaise: Racisme et Immigration, Maghrebine. New York: Seuil, 1984.
—. Marseille, Comme un Matin d’Insomnie. Marseilles: Le Temps Parallele, 1986.
—. Le Pain Nu. Translated from Arabic by Mohamed Choukri. Paris: F.Maspero, 1980.
—. La Plus Haute des Solitudes: Misere Sexuelle d’Emigres Nord-Africains. New York: Seuil, 1977.

Prix de l’Amitie Franco-Arabe 1976 for Les Amandiers Sont Morts de Leurs Blessures Prix de l’Association des Bibliothecaires de France et de Radio Monte-Carlo 1978 for Moha le Fou, Moha le Sage Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres 1983 Prix Goncourt 1987 for La Nuit Sacree Chevailer de la Legion d’Honneur 1988 Prix des Hemispheres 1991 for Les Yeux Baisses

Works Cited

Colby, Vineta, ed. World Authors 1985-90. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1995.
DiYanni, Robert, ed. The Reader’s Adviser. 14th edition Volume 2: The Best in World Literature. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1994.
France, Peter, ed. The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Peacock, Scot, ed. Contemporary Authors. Volume 162. Detroit: Gale, 1998.
Author: Amy Owen, Spring 1999 Last edited: April 2012

source: Amy Owen- 


  • الطاهر بن جلون (ولد في 1 ديسمبر 1944، فاس) كاتب فرنسي من أصول مغربية. ينتمي إلى الجيل الثاني من الكتاب المغاربة الذين يكتبون باللغة الفرنسية وله إصدارات كثيرة في الشعر والرواية والقصة، وتتميز أعماله بالطابع الفولكلوري والعجائبي. هو حاصل على جائزة غونكور الفرنسية عن رواية "ليلة القدر".

    نتقل إلى طنجة مع أسرته سنة 1955 حيث التحق بمدرسة فرنسية. وكان قد اعتقل عام 1966 مع 94 طالب آخر لتنظيمهم ومشاركتهم في مظاهرات 1965 الطلابية، فتخلى عن الحراك السياسي ولجأ للكتابة.

    ودَرَّسَ الفلسفة في الرباط إلى غاية 1971 حين إعلان الحكومة المغربية عزمها تعريب تعليم الفلسفة. ورداً على هذه الخطوة، غادر المدرّس الفرنكوفوني المغرب صوب فرنسا حيث حصل على شهادة عليا في علم النفس. وبدأت مسيرته في الكتابة بعد فترة قصيرة من وصوله إلى باريس حيث عمل كاتبا مستقلا لصحيفة لوموند وبدأ ينشر الشعر والرواية.

    من بين مآخذ النقاد على الطاهر بنجلون هو «انبطاحه للغرب»[1] و«تحويل بلده المغرب إلى فولكلور يتفرج عليه الغربيون، وخاصة الفرنسيين، على طريقة بعض المستشرقين». واصراره على أنه كاتب فرنسي، وليس كاتبا مغربيا،[2] رغم أن الفرنسيين لا يعتبرون أدبه كذلك، ففي «مهرجان الأدب العالمي.. اللغة والمنفى» الذي نظمته ريفيو أوف بوكس في لندن سنة 2010، عبًر بنجلون عن امتعاضه واستياءه لأنه وجد كتبه تباع في المكتبات الفرنسية وهي مصنفة ضمن خانة «الأدب الأجنبي».[3]

    بدأ الكتابة شعرا مع مجموعة أنفاس بالمغرب ثم انتقل إلى الرواية والقصة، فصدرت له العديد من الأعمال الأدبية منذ السبعينات منها روايات: حرودة عن دار دونويل سنة 1973، وواية موحى الأحمق، موحى العاقل عن دار لوسوي سنة 1981، وصلاة الغائب عن دار لوسوي سنة 1981، وطفل الرمال عن دار لوسوي سنة1985، وليلة القدر عن دار لوسوي سنة 1987، وهي الرواية التي حصل من خلالها على جائزة الكونكور الفرنسية في نفس السنة. كما أصدر مجموعة من النصوص القصصية والدواوين الشعرية والأنطلوجيات منها: ذاكرة المستقبل وهي انطلوجيا حول القصيدة الجديدة بالمغرب عام 1976، ديوان في غياب الذاكرة عام 1980، والمجموعة القصصية الحب الأول هو دائما الأخير عام 1995. من أعماله الأخيرة رواية «ليلة الخطأ» 1997، رواية مأوى الفقراء 1999، ورواية تلك العتمة الباهرة سنة 2001، التي أثارت حفيظة معتقلي تازمامارت لعدم إثارة قضيتهم من قبل واستفادته منها الآن لكسب أرباح على حسابهم.[4]

    ويشتكي الطاهر بنجلون من قرصنة كتبه في لبنان ومصر وسوريا وترجمتها السيئة.

    أهم اعماله
    طفل الرمال 1985.
    ليلة القدر 1987 (حصل عنها على جائزة غونكور سنة 1987)
    ليلة الغلطة. 1996.
    تلك العتمة الباهرة 2001.
    أن ترحل .
    "ليلتئم الجرح"
    السعادة الزوجية
    الإستئصال 2014 .

     Tahar Ben Jelloun

    Tahar Ben Jelloun (en arabe : طاهر بنجلون) est un écrivain et poète marocain de langue française né à Fès le 1er décembre 1944. Après avoir fréquenté une école primaire bilingue arabo-francophone, il a étudié au lycée français de Tanger à l'âge de dix-huit ans puis fit des études de philosophie à l'université Mohammed-V de Rabat où il écrivit ses premiers poèmes, recueillis dans Hommes sous linceul de silence (1971).

    Il enseigna ensuite la philosophie au Maroc, mais dû partir pour la France en 1971 car l'enseignement de la philosophie fut arabisé, et il n'était pas formé pour cela. Il écrivit à de nombreuses reprises pour le quotidien Le Monde à partir de 1972. Il poursuivit par un doctorat de psychiatrie sociale obtenu en 1975. Son écriture profita de son expérience de psychothérapeute (La Réclusion solitaire, 1976).

    En 1985 il publia le roman L'Enfant de sable qui le rendit célèbre. Il a obtenu le prix Goncourt en 1987 pour La Nuit sacrée, une suite à L'Enfant de sable.

    Tahar Ben Jelloun vit actuellement à Paris avec sa femme et sa fille Mérième, pour qui il a écrit plusieurs ouvrages pédagogiques (Le Racisme expliqué à ma fille, 1997). Il est aujourd'hui régulièrement sollicité pour des interventions dans les écoles et collèges.

    Son œuvre a été traduite dans de nombreuses langues ; citons particulièrement L'Enfant de sable et La Nuit sacrée (43 langues) ainsi que Le Racisme expliqué à ma fille (25 langues dont l'espéranto). La plupart de ses livres ont été traduits en arabe, parfois avec des révisions par l'auteur lui-même.

    Ainsi «L’Enfant de sable » (Seuil 1985) et « La Nuit sacrée » Prix Goncourt 1987 ont été traduits dans 43 langues dont, en dehors des langues européennes et de l’anglais, l’indonésien, le lithuanien, le vietnamien, le hindi, l’hébreu, le japonais, le coréen, le chinois, l’albanais, le slovène, l’arabe etc.

    « Le racisme expliqué à ma fille » qui est un best seller en France, Italie et Allemagne a été traduit dans 33 langues dont les trois langues principales d’Afrique du Sud (l’Afrikaan, le Siswati et l’Ixixhosa), le bosniaque et l’esperanto !

    Tahar Ben Jelloun a reçu le Prix IMPAC à Dublin en juin 2004 ; ce prix, décerné par un jury international après une sélection faite par 162 bibliothèques et librairies anglo-saxones a couronné le roman « Cette aveuglante absence de lumière », livre écrit à la demande et après un entretien avec un ancien prisonnier du bagne de Tazmamart au Maroc.


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