I know it’s been a while since I’ve shared my thoughts on some of the books I’ve read but I will try to do so more often. Yesterday, I read Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novella PAR LE FEU, “By Fire”. The novel is based on the events of December 17th in Sidi Bouzid, namely: the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi. He nicely describes the problems, corruption, self-loathing, lack of solidarity and other circumstances that lead to the self-immolation of his fictional character Mohamed.
I really liked the novella because it allows you to better grasp what Tunisia was like prior to the revolution. Haven visited Tunisia myself and interacted with the people there, the story truly nicely illustrates what living under the regime was like. I remember my cousin telling me I should not use the President’s name for fear that someone would report us. I asked what would happen if they did and he said: “we would get taken away and beaten, if not something worse”.
I also love the way he illustrates the tension between the poor and the silence of the older generation. The complacency of the rich and middle class. The corruption and terror among the people of the lower class. I also love the way he shows that Mohamed did not set out to be a hero in his novella. It wasn’t through grassroots political actions. It was simply a man who lost everything, an innuendo of what loss of hope does to someone.
He then ends the novella on how Mohamed became a symbol of the resistance. How once word spread to the international communities and the outrage it caused in Tunisia and abroad, he became a part of the “heroic martyrs of a new Middle Eastern revolution.”.
So on that note I would like to end with the moral of the story:
“L’histoire de Mohamed n’appartient à personne; c’est l’histoire d’un homme simple, comme il y en a des millions, qui, a force d’être écrasé, humilié, nié dans sa vie, a fini par devenir l’étincelle qui embrase le monde. Jamais personne ne lui volera sa mort.” Tahar Ben Jelloun, page 50.
“The story of Mohamed belongs to no one. His is the story of a simple man, like a million others, who as a result of being crushed, humiliated and abhorred during life eventually became a spark that ignites the world. No one can ever appropriate his death.”