Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail - Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert JailWow.  What a story.  Stolen Lives was my pick for "A book from Oprah's Book Club" for my 2016 reading challenge, and it was amazing.  It's the story of Malika Oufkir, the daughter of a Moroccan general who was close with the king--until he tried to assassinate the king, and was executed in turn.  Malika, her mother, and her siblings were placed under house arrest and eventually locked away in a desert jail for over a decade.  All together, they spent twenty years imprisoned for something they hadn't done.  What makes the story even more astounding is that Malika had been adopted by the previous king and raised alongside his daughter, and has fond memories of living in the palace with King Hassan II (the one her father tried to assassinate and who ordered her family imprisoned), though she did always miss her family and the freedom of life outside the palace.

The story is a very simplistic style, which I think is explained somewhat in the prologue.  Malika wrote the book with her friend Michele Fitoussi, who she met in Paris.  Fitoussi explains in the prologue that they recorded Malika telling the story of her life, and Fitoussi did the writing based off that.  The writing style definitely sounds like the oral recitation of a story, so I think that Fitoussi probably did a good job there--and that the person who translated it into English (I don't recall the name and it's not on the cover, I'm sorry) did a good job of bringing that style over into another language.  The simplicity helps highlight the immense changes Malika's life went through, without playing anything up.  In fact, the years of her family's imprisonment actually come across as less severe than I'm sure they were.  While she certainly relates the many difficulties they faced--the rats, the starvation, the separation--it wasn't until she began relating the many physical and mental health problems that plagued the family even after they were released that I truly began to realize the severity of their plight.

One thing that I wish had been highlighted a bit more was Malika's life after her family was released.  She talks about how they still weren't truly welcome in Morocco, despite the support many people expressed for them; no one wanted to be so open about their support that they risked difficulty with the government.  But Malika never actually relates anything past meeting her husband, and I would have liked to know some about how she actually came to leave Morocco and go to France, as she mentions towards the end that the family wasn't allowed to leave.

I had never known that the political situation in Morocco was so fraught, and that the problem of the "disappeared" had been such a large one.  I knew about this issue in other countries around the same time period (in various places in South America, particularly) but not about Morocco!  This book was enlightening, heartbreaking, and uplifting all at the same time.  It's a wonderful autobiography (I think it definitely falls into this category) that tells a story that I don't think many people (thankfully) have to offer, and it is definitely a change from the comedian-authored autobiographies I've read recently.  This is the compelling material that I think a good autobiography truly demands, and it makes the trials of the rich and famous really pale in comparison.

4 stars out of 5.

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