The Bottom of the Jar
by Abedellatif Laâbi
translated by André Naffis-Sahely
(Archipelago Books, 2012)
By Abdellatif Laâbi, who won the Prix Goncourt for his oeuvre complète, The Bottom of the Jar is an exploration of Laâbi's childhood city in Fez, undertaken through Namoussa, his semi-fictional kindred spirit. Coupled with intimate portraits of the lives of various colorful characters filling the homes and alleyways of Morocco's Medieval capital, The Bottom of the Jar is a warm and lyrical elegy to his family and a moving glimpse into a city that he holds dear. The reader is presented with beautiful – and often harrowing – descriptions of the author's school-life at a Koranic school, his circumcision, and other rites of passage such as his trips to the hammam and his reflections on various religious feasts and ceremonies. Yet the novel is not only a personal testament of Laâbi's early years, but is a work of great social and political import; one that reflects on and evokes the charged atmosphere during the final days of French colonial occupation of the North African country, and the painful road to independence.