Review of By Fire by Tahar Ben Jelloun
If ever there was a story that needed no introduction, here it is: By Fire, which actually comprises the back third of this slim volume. So let's talk about that story, a fictional rendering of Mohamed Bouazizi's last few days of life. And yes, usually when something needs no introduction it doesn't need me to wikipedia link to it, but the reason that By Fire needs no introduction is because, by itself, it is a stand-alone, super-good, well-written novella. It is literature, in all the universal definitions that I'm sure someone taught me in high school but that I didn't pay attention to.
Of course, because that's the way my life works, there is an introduction: a meandering, fan-girl (which I totally understand: Tahar Ben Jelloun seems like a freakin' amazing author) all-over-the-place discussion of how the translator literally found the story (in a bookshop, in France), Tunisian history, reading her translation at SUNY Buffalo, her students reactions, why the story is meaningful, Ben Jelloun's life, etc. Basically, the book starts with a whole slew of disorganized thoughts that I suppose are relevant, but why not let the story tell them first? Why not put By Fire at the beginning and the Translator's Thoughts at the end, a digestif rather than apéritif?
Middle-third: excerpts from some of Ben Jelloun's other writings (non-fiction) regarding the Arab Spring. It could stay in the middle, as long as the beginning (Translator's Note) and the ending (By Fire) switch places. But really, I would have been happy to just read By Fire, the story, and forget about the other critical-context bits. I can look those up on my own.
By Fire by Tahar Ben Jelloun went on sale June 15, 2016.
I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.