The Punishment

. Yale Univ. (Margellos World Republic of Letters). Apr. 2020. 168p. from French by Linda Coverdale. ISBN 9780300243024. $25. LITERARY.
"I invented nothing," says Morocco-born, French-based author Ben Jelloun (This Blinding Absence of Light) in an interview about this book quoted by adept translator Coverdale in her preface. Chronicling his 1966 arrest while peacefully protesting King Hassan II’s corrupt regime and placed with nearly 100 other young men in a brutal military camp, this work is classed as fiction, and if it’s exacting in both personal and historical detail, the fluid, understatedly pristine language and expert structure make it exemplary literature. (Not for nothing is Ben Jelloun regularly a Nobel Prize finalist.) Camp inmates are harshly made to understand the importance of obedience and devotion to king and country; as war heats up with Algeria, they are sent to another camp in preparation for becoming cannon fodder. The narrator survives by inwardly reciting Rimbaud and beginning a lifetime of writing poetry, his "only weapon against these barbarians."
VERDICT A masterly and important evocation of brutal political repression.


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