For Bread Alone
Mohamed Choukri. Translated from Arabic by Paul Bowles.
Telegram. First published 1973
This is a clear-eyed, unsentimental narration of the pre-teen to teenage years of the author as he was growing up desperately poor in Morocco in the early 1950s. His father was a brutal man who killed one of the author's brothers and allowed many more of his siblings to die by neglect. Desperate for food, for bare survival, Choukri roamed the streets of Tangiers and other towns. He stole, cheated, did odd jobs, sold drugs, tried his hand at pimping, everything. He had many encounters with the police, and once during a jail term, was introduced to Arabic poetry. That struck a spark in him, igniting a fire to learn to read and write, to become literate and to become a litterateur eventually.
The book is brief and sparse. There is no attempt to philosophize or to apologize. There is no exaggeration of the troubles, no sentimental navel-gazing of how things might have been different, better. There is not much idea of the political struggle for independence from France that was then ongoing. The book has an intellectual force that is belied both by its size and by the lack of widespread recognition for the author and his works.