Excerpt from Mohsine Loukili’s IPAF-shortlisted ‘The Prisoner of the Portuguese’

Only dust was now carried along, in whirlwinds or below them, and it filled the sky with a dreadful dark color. Abdelsamad was the first groom in this bloody wedding procession. In the weak light of the sky, I saw my father walk up the stairs leading from the cellar to the courtyard. I saw the bright moon sailing in the sky, soft clouds rushing by, and stars shining amidst the darkness. Ayoub cried, so he struck him with the handle of a knife. I waited for a long time. Adnan tilted backwards and fell onto his back. They contain many ears of grains and corn, fig trees, vines, and olive trees. My father grabbed him by the hand, yanked him to the ground, then dragged him down the cellar steps. My brother Abdelsamad went mad. With my mother’s death, the world changed forever. He died and took his dreams with him, buried alive. We suffered one epidemic after another. Excerpt from Mohsine Loukili’s IPAF-shortlisted ‘The Prisoner of the Portuguese’ April 26, 2022April 21, 2022 by mlynxqualey Yesterday, we ran a discussion between Moroccan novelist Mohsine Loukili, shortlisted for this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his The Prisoner of the Portuguese, and ArabLit’s Leonie Rau. It reached even the mountain dwellers, and the lands were emptied both of people walking and of roaming animals. The last flowers bloomed years ago. He was supposed to die before my father’s return, but fate chose differently, and he died slaughtered and terrified instead. Everything flees our land, Master. It was a sky both charming and hateful. The plague moon does not offer comfort, it incites anguish. “Run, boy! There are no dreams, Master, in nights of drought and famine. His beard had been conquered by white that crept its way into the hair on his head. Leonie Rau is ArabLit’s editorial assistant. He died with his eyes closed, dreaming of orchards and springtime and butterflies. I began to run, afraid that my father’s hand would snatch me and drag me back to the cellar. Behind you is only death.” My limbs went stiff and grew heavy. The Portuguese and Spanish were ambushing our land from the direction of the sea, while the Turks were counting their numbers on the Algerian side, with the aim of using our land as a base for fighting the Christians and crossing into al-Andalus. He was our last remaining hope. The rains stopped, the orchards vanished, the birds departed, and the seasons came to a standstill. A harsh cold descended, and the few remaining clouds followed the rays of light that hung suspended in the winding alleys, fleeing Fez’s pallid night. My father threw him over his shoulder like a sack and drove us down to the cellar. He was filled with the wish to know the earth’s fertile side. The last leaf had fallen more than two years ago. God is in any other place on earth, but he is definitely not here. I shook my head, to his delight, and replied: “Orchards are open land: flat on the plains, but arranged one above the other on the hills and mountains. “Orchards are open land: flat on the plains, but arranged one above the other on the hills and mountains. She can be found on Twitter @Leonie_Rau_. The wind died down, and the sun sheltered behind the mountains. Ibrahim came out, and I climbed the stairs. The wind must have carried his soul far away, for angels are not made for Hell. I crouched in the courtyard all day, waiting for my father to return. They are surrounded by demons, on their unalterable path, until death. Adnan remained bedridden. In times of plague, the moon waters the houses’ roofs with nothing but more sorrow. In spring, when the weather is clear, neither hot nor cold, the gardens are filled with flowers of all colors, and countless butterflies fluttering above them. Hafiz’s bellowing ended, trailing off like a shadow at the end of evening. Today, an excerpt from the novel: * Extract from The Prisoner of the Portuguese Chapter 1 By Mohsine Loukili Translated by Leonie Rau From the seven children my father slaughtered in the cellar of our house, I was the sole survivor. It appears full and round, like the eye of God. We stood frozen like statues, but our shadows were kicking with the fear of death. Between my father’s descent down to the cellar and his return to the courtyard, he had aged many years. He smiled and did not speak unless he sensed it would be welcome. I passed through Bab Boujloud, and the wind exhaled the smell of drought coming in from the mountains. The others held on like lame, sick chickens—standing on one side and falling on the other. You will remain after I’m gone, and you’ll father boys who will fill the quarters of Fez with their clamor,” I heard my mother say. The moon carouses high above our pains. Your mother is dead, your father’s gone mad, and you have no one left. He died without ever picking a rose. The ground rose to meet me, and I fell onto my back. We needed him. She is also an aspiring literary translator with a particular interest in Maghrebi literature. When Ayoub reached his third year, he opened his eyes to the drought. There were no leaves left on the trees to be blown away. Illness had been ravaging him for months, and he could not get back up. My mother had been worried that my father would die outside the house. My mother’s chest had already become narrow, and she now thought only of securing the next bite of food. He spoke in a calm, confident voice, as a man on a sacred mission might do: “Only women weep for fear of death.” The cellar’s darkness still haunts my heart to this day, Master, and my siblings’ faces hover around me every time I lay my head on a pillow. A large eye: only watching, not interfering; observing, not caring. * Mohsine Loukili   is a Moroccan writer, born in Taza, Morocco, 1978. Devastation saturated the cities and the terror spread through the countryside. The elite were too busy with loathing, malice, and the hatching of plots to care for the commoners. I stopped. To this day, I don’t know why he spared me. That’s when Father pulled Isa by the hair, and I whispered into Ayoub’s ear: “Close your eyes, I’ll tell you about the orchards.” He nodded, wiped away his tears, and closed his eyes. Keep going, and don’t turn back. Communities were ravaged, and famine and plague took root until we believed that God was carving our generation from the surface of the earth. They are watered by spring water in canals that open at specific times so that each orchard receives a sufficient share of water. He couldn’t bear the hunger and Mother’s death. The wretched continue drowning in darkness, in fear, in themselves. They store a third, sell a third, and give a third to the poor and to travelers.” My father lit a lantern. I was frightened for him, for my siblings, and for myself. It was the third year of famine, drought, and plague. The common people, meanwhile, were too occupied with killing one another and with rape and petty theft to remember the elite. The ground swayed beneath me, the dry trees around me collapsed, and my heart was close to splitting. He rounded us up in the courtyard as he used to do with the sheep he would bring from the farm before Eid. He broke his jaw, and Ayoub fell silent. They contain many ears of grains and corn, fig trees, vines, and olive trees. Our mother, who could have stood between us and death, died of hunger and sorrow a day before the tragedy. Mother’s death had left an enormous void. My father buried her in the courtyard, wept over her for a whole night, and then left at dawn, aimlessly wandering Fez’s empty alleys and quarters. We saw, in the failing light of the lantern, Abdelsamad’s neck cut from ear to ear. Maybe it was the light of the lantern, dying down, driving death away from me. * Also read: Mohsine Loukili: I Do Not Use the Novel to Serve History, But History to Serve the Novel Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading… His novel   Rih al-Shirki   (2016) was shortlisted for the Sheikh Zayyed Award, in the Young Author category, and his short story collection   Lostness (2016) won the Ghassan Kanafani Prize for Narrative. Emptiness crowds into the spaces between houses and the darkness sharpens. Even God is no longer here. People buried people in mass graves, and those carried off by illness were simply left as decaying cadavers, to rot without rites or burials. Sunset progressed forcefully; the sun had already surrendered. There was no one in the streets of Fez. He walked around the rooms of the house, the walls turning him away and the faces rebuffing him, so that he ended up by my side in the courtyard. They are watered by spring water in canals that open at specific times so that each orchard receives a sufficient share of water…” Then he slaughtered him. He approached her, only for her to shoo him off until he left her alone. I ran for a long time. Wind and dust were all this winter season had to offer us. No angels and no devils. The very smell—the smell of dampness, excrement, and blood. My father killed all my siblings, one after the other. My father left and wandered about. I turned, but couldn’t find anyone. The rulers ended one war only to light the fuse of the next in their feverish struggle over power and kingship. When my father looked to me, the lantern went out. She is about to graduate from her MA degree in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Tübingen, Germany. He published his first short story collection   Dawn of Rage   in 2009, then his debut novel   Winds of August   (2013), which was awarded the 2013 Sharjah Award for Arab Creativity. In summer, when they turn yellow and harden, the farmers harvest and pick the crops. Abdelsamad jumped up like a monkey, barefoot and naked, a child without a shadow. But Ayoub sobbed. Farmers cultivate them, and they overflow with bounty and blessings. He still kept his eyes closed, and I raised my voice: “…when the weather is clear, neither hot nor cold, the gardens are filled with flowers of all colors, and countless butterflies fluttering above them. Night had fallen and the moon had risen, casting its crippled light, making many corpses visible on either side of the road. They were submissive, maybe even wishing for death. He smiled to himself and asked: “What are orchards like?” He was asking me this for the hundredth time in the past few weeks. In spring…” My father tore him from my side. Creation died in droves, and the trials became too much to bear. Ayoub, my youngest brother and also the least fortunate, never even knew them. We also needed protection from hunger, from infection, and from fear of the unknown. I fled through the front door, which had been left ajar. He has won numerous prizes for plays, short stories and novels. Our hardships were unceasing. The mountains breathed wind into the alleys of Fez. My father appeared on the doorstep at sunset. He had dreamt of a different land, but he isn’t here anymore to live in it. He slaughtered him there and returned. I strove to satisfy him and not crush his dreams. “Death on the road is a disgrace,” she often repeated. “Shh”, said my father, anticipating our screams. He did not struggle. Farmers cultivate them, and they overflow with bounty and blessings. Her translations have appeared on ArabLit and in   ArabLit Quarterly and Guernica. “You will not die, my son, calm down. I stretched out my hand to him, and he clung to it.

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