“Something Strange, Like Hunger” by Malika Moustadraf

Book Club: A true giant of Moroccan literature, Malika Moustadraf has left an indelible mark on Arab feminism and feminist literature. In this posthumous anthology of short stories, Malika questions Casablanca’s underlings: those seen but not heard.

Something Strange, Like Hunger presents Moustadraf’s short fiction: haunting and visceral stories by a master of the genre [Saqi Books]

This posthumous collection of fourteen translated short stories by Moroccan feminist author Malika Moustadraf immediately captures the reader’s attention with intense descriptions and transmitted reflections.

Penetrating a world that is both familiar and at the same time different, the translated stories shed light on specific aspects of Moroccan society and how the patriarchal system is entrenched, not only by men but also occasionally by women, who consciously or not, play into the male-set script and in turn influence the younger generation into another cycle of overt subjugation.

“It is through the most intimate or the most solitary moments that a bond is created or broken”

The first story of the book, Cunningcenters on a discussion between two sisters.

One of the sisters plans to get a virginity certificate for her daughter who is about to get married.

What the mother does not know is that her daughter works in brothels.

The mother’s first reaction is to send her daughter away before the hymen restoration surgery is suggested to prevent shame from befalling the family and for the marriage to go as planned. While the daughter is spared societal repercussions, the lingering thought that such surgery was a necessity in a patriarchal society resonates more than wedding celebrations.

However, Illusion recounts how a woman forged her destiny by marrying a Christian Frenchman against her parents’ wishes, justifying her reason for not marrying a Muslim by stating that her residence in France would pave the way for her family’s eventual relocation. The brother’s rage at deception mingles with his hypocritical attitude towards women.

Notably, just different chronicles the struggles of a possibly transgender character who prostitutes herself and is denied the freedom to identify with the person’s chosen gender.

The violence in this story is particularly graphic, as is the casting of shame and abuse on the character by the father and by members of society.

Religion is deeply ingrained as one of the pillars on which abuse against women is justified, and abusers elevate their status, at least in the eyes of society at large, for adhering to social stereotypes that are rarely challenged.

Yet within the confines of home or life, experiences trace different routes for the abused and the abuser, the exploited and the exploiter.

In Thirty sixa father who sexually exploits and abuses women shows disgust at his daughter’s onset of menstruation, asking the woman he was sleeping with to take care of her.

A fight ensues the next morning between the wife and the father. “Get out, damn it! Women keep the fires of hell burning!”

The girl, who witnesses the fight, says: “I guess what will happen next: he will go to the bathroom, wash himself, then he will turn towards Mecca and say: ‘I bow down with a saint. intention, offering additional prayer to Allah.’”

Other stories dealing with sexuality, marriage, and poverty also depict various measures of violence. Delusional clearly illustrates the double standards regarding women’s sexuality – men’s expectation that women enjoy sex while slandering them for their desire.

A woman in love, a woman defeated recounts the protagonist’s shame at the memories of her wedding preparations while recalling that she was just a transaction for her father. “And you, Dad, aren’t you embarrassed that you married me when I was still a kid with pigtails?” You made a big profit that day, didn’t you, by marrying me – or should I say selling me.

For readers unfamiliar with the author’s work and cultural background, the book also provides detailed insight into the author’s life and the anthology of stories produced in this collection.

The latter explains the misunderstanding that might arise when reading this book, as well as instances where the translation might not convey a clear meaning through the text due to cultural differences.

This collection is not for light reading. Despite the brevity of most stories, the content is not easy to digest.

It is through the most intimate or the most solitary moments that a bond is created or broken. Amid the masks reserved for society, Moustadraf’s characters experience turbulence in particular circumstances that may only relate to them in terms of personal experience. But woven into Casablanca society, these fictional lives are a glimpse of normalized trauma.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, literary critic and blogger specializing in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law.

About Wesley V. Finley

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