Often the diaspora literature from the African continent is seen as the literature of black writers who have left the continent and went for greener pastures, often in the United States of America. In these discussions writers from the North of Africa often are forgotten.
One of the writers with roots in Morocco is Said El Haji. He was born in Morocco in 1976 and he moved to The Netherlands with his family when he was still very young, about 5/6 years young. He studied Dutch language and literature at the oldest university of the country, in Leiden. He writes in the Dutch language.
In this book “Get up and live, father” Said has collected essays and articles he wrote about his life and about his relationship with his relatives, especially his father. Some writers kill their father in a literary way, but who will reanimate his father in a literary way. Will this happen in this collection?
He has written before about his father, whom he sees as a harsh, grim and violent man. His father gets unemployed at the young age of 37 due to illness, so he gets a special benefit. With no work he turns to the mosque and joins the Muslim Brotherhood. According to him there is nothing outside of islam (and he still moved to The Netherlands). This changed attitude causes a widening gap with his children (five sons, one daughter). When Said made it known that he was no longer a muslim, his father forbade other people to have contact with Said. At the age of 52 his father died.
While writing about his father and his mother and brothers and sister he gives the reader an insight into a Moroccon upbringing in a Dutch context, in which notions of shame and humiliation play an important role. These two world of the Dutch culture and the Moroccon culture do not often mix or live together in an easy way. The relationship between men and women is a complicated one. He discerns that Moroccon men have neglected their emotional life. When you want to find comfort you need to go to your mother, but your mother is strictly under the authority of her husband. So these men reject the authority of women, for authority and men is the right combination. Men live in a world of their own, so they it is very hard for them to interact with women.
He sees in his culture of origin a tendency to control one another through fear and distrust. In the Arab culture there is an authoritarian strain. Said pleads for openness and individual freedom.
Said wants to live his own life with his own decisions, not bound to the traditions from northern Africa, not bound to the traditions of islam. For the first time he finds his freedom when he spends time at the University of Wyoming (USA), where he attends a writers course. He is away from Dutch culture and Moroccon culture.
Said does not believe in Allah nor does he believe in love, this causes some problems with his girlfriend. Mentioning ‘girlfriend’, one day, when he is at a secondary school in Rotterdam to talk about a book he wrote, he is severely criticised by one of the girls in the classroom. According to this Moroccan girl, Bouchra, Said has denied his very own roots. A few years later she marries a Dutch boy named Robin van Persie, also from Rotterdam, by now a famous soccerplayer.
This is a well written book. He opens a door of the house he lived in (he thanks his relatives for giving him the opportunity to write about them). He opens a door to the culture he lived in.
And his father? Does Said resurrect his father? Read this book !
Said El Haji – Sta op en leef, vader – 2013