In the North African country a coup took place in July 1971. A group of military men, officers and subalterns, attacked the Skhirat palace, where king Hassan II stays. The coup failed after many losses on both sides. Some of the subalterns were taken captive and taken into isolation and deprivation in Tazmamart. Tahar ben Jelloun recounts the story of Salim, one of these prisoners.
In Tamamart there are two groups of prisoners. The one block to which Salim belongs is taken into prison cells, measuring each 300cm x 150cm x 160cm. We follow the lives of these 23 men that are kept apart, each in his own cell. A few times they get the opportunity to leave the cell, for instance when the bury one of their group. They experience many cruelties at the hands of the prison staff. To get food is a daily torture, for there is hardly any food and the quality is below par.
After 13 years in prison 50% of the group has died. Around this time one of the prisoners Wakrine makes sure that one of the guards, M’Fadel, knows they are related to one another, so there exists a bond. Wakrine asks M’fadel to take a small note out of prison. This event sets off a chain of events, with some succes, for some medicine is allowed in prison. And the outside world gets to know about their situation.
After 18 years in prison only seven men are still alive. The conditions improve, they could not get any worse. In the end, after twenty years, three prisoners are still alive. Those in Block A also suffered losses, 30 out of the 58 inmates died. In September 1991 the remaining ones are being transferred and Tamamart is being bulldozered as part of an ‘approach of denial’ by the government. The prisoners are slowly prepared for life in freedom, but there is strong pressure on the men to cowtow them into silence about their experiences. After two months the first ones gain freedom. On October 29, 1991 Salim is born again, he regains his freedom. A broken man, longing for loneliness and quietness.
Tahar ben Jelloun has written an spine chilling account of the life of Salim, his fellow prisoners, their attempts at staying alive in deadly circumstances, their struggle to stay sane, to stand up against the prison guards and cockroaches.
Tahar ben Jelloun – Cette aveuglante absence de lumière – 2001
(This book has been translated into English: This Blinding Absence of Light)