A Dutch book written by a Morocco-born writer. Her name is Naima el Bezaz. She still had to reach her teens when she travelled with her mother to The Netherlands to join her father.
In this book, her fourth novel, she takes a closer look at herself without calling it an autobiography. The title is: The syndrome of happiness’. We live in a world where ‘happiness’ is a sought after attribute. In The Netherlands there is a well known magazine titled ‘Happinezz‘. At the social media we portray ourselves as a happy person at happy places in happy circumstances, surrounded by happy people. Outside the social media life is a but tougher, a bit more unpredictable, to say the least. Too many people life has become a growing burden. In The Netherlands the suicide rate among young people has gone up in a drastic way. At the same time there are old people who want others to end their life or a pill to end their own life. Life as a burden, even in an affluent country.
Naima el Bezaz has got a large portion of the harshness of life. Her third novel De Verstotene (The Rejected) caused an uproar among her own Moroccan community, especially among the younger ones. She needed protection when she left her house. She cancelled all kinds of speeches. This coupled with hard and much work (e.g. intense contact with a woman diagnosed with cancer), caused a severe depression to come to her surface. She got medication. She received councel from a psychiatrist, who advised her to write about what happened to her and with her. Her own people found it hard to come to terms with the mental disease of Naima. A broken leg is easier to comfort.
In this book we encounter the downside of happiness. This downside is not on another planet, but right where we are. Maybe you know that lovely girl with a smile on her face. Maybe it was the young man with a bright future. Maybe it is you.
We meet two promising young woman in Amsterdam, the capital of The Netherlands. One is Marit, a medical student, with a rich father. Her mother has passed away and she has limited contact with her father. She wants to be independent. Since secondary school she has known Layla, from a Moroccan immigrant family. When both enter university life their friendship deepens. Marit likes to be with Layla and her family. And Layla likes to be at the lodgings of Marit to sense some freedom. Layla has finished her studies and is looking for a job, but after many application still to no avail. And last but not least, she is still unmarried.
Marit has received the new that she has cancer, but even to Layla she keeps very quiet about it. To get some change they both travel top Morocco to stay with relatives of Layla. Is not this a nice social media event?? Marit and other women spend time at a local hammam. The body of Marit is protesting all the time, the pain gets more and more difficult to bear. She resorts to the use of drugs. Cousin Ghali enjoys his time with Marit, while the two friends drift apart.
Back in The Netherlands Marit wants to have a month of ‘no contact’ with Layla. She wants to be on her own. During this time Layla breaks down. Things fall apart, her mind and body cannot hold. The first sign is a stomach ulcer, and she stays in hospital for a week, deserted to a large extend by her relatives and BFF Marit. Crying and crying, rivers of tears, from deep down from yet undiscovered resources. In not to be misunderstood ways Layla describes her journey into the depths of her existence, a way of loneliness, misunderstood by others and not understood by herself.
So, two friends far away from happiness. One nearing the end of her life. The other nearing the bottom of her existence.
In a postscript Naima writes about her background in her depression and her therapy.
Where do I come from?
Where do I go to?
“Blessed are those who can live in the present.”
Happiness is not to be grabbed.
Does money helps to attain happiness?
Freedom makes one happy.
Happiness is overrated.
In a way this novel is an outstretched hand from Naima towards her own community. She makes mental diseases a topic to be talked about, not a topic to be hidden. For in hiding this topic of mental health people are ostracizing others. Naima el Bezaz has had the courage in her difficult and confusing and tearful days to table this topic. Who wants to come to dinner? To sit at the table and to listen and to be slow to speak.
A brave book.
Naima el Bezaz – het gelukssyndroom – 2008