The Beach Cafe & The Voice by Mohammed Mrabet

The Beach CafeMy first foray into Moroccan literature, incidentally quite by accident, and I’m treated to a wonderful book containing two stories by Mohammed Mrabet. What fascinated me most was that the stories were not written by Mrabet but told by him; in other words the good old tradition of oral narration. Paul Bowles, an acclaimed writer in his own right, translated the taped recordings of Mrabet from Moghrebi (an Arabic dialect) into English.

How much of the exquisite literature is Mrabet’s and how much is Bowles’ is unknown to me. What I do know is that theirs is a dance of eloquence merging story-telling and prose that puts the stories in this book The Beach Café & The Voice on a shelf amongst my high ranking literary delights.

The Summaries

Mrabet’s The Beach Café is about the relationship between Driss and Fuad. Where Driss is nothing but kind and helpful to the old café owner, Fuad is one of those characters common in Middle Eastern cultures who would rather talk (and spread lies) behind Driss’ back while telling him sweet nothings to his face. Theirs is an odd interaction that draws light on the subtlety in which tradition, religion and, most importantly, hypocrisy creep into human interaction. Driss’ is generous and wiser beyond his years while Fuad is greedy and lame giving the characters a juxtaposition from which to create a most interesting tale.

The Voice is a shorter, less complicated story but equally compelling. Mesud hears a ‘voice’ from birth until adulthood that compels him to commit heinous crimes every now and then. Mesud eventually tires from these commands and confides to his grandfather about the voice he hears. Mesud’s grandfather encourages him to regard the voice as evil, a djinn. Mesud then meets a girl whom the voice has sent to kill him but events take a different turn.

The Style

Paul Bowles writes these stories in a minimalist style that evoked aspects of Hemingway’s writing style and that is where the comparison ends. There’s beauty in simplicity and eloquence in directness to which Bowles endows on Mrabet’s stories. I look forward to getting my hands on the rest of Bowles’ translations of Mrabet, which will not be easy to come by (at least affordably).

The themes covered in these 86 pages are familiar to me when I think of my Middle Eastern upbringing where gossip and lies can be spread like wildfire, jealousy and greed even from those you are generous to are not uncommon, and belief in the djinn can be extreme. Perhaps this is why the book resonated with me.

I’d like to think, however, that it’s the way the prose is expressed that truly struck a chord – the way good literature always does.



5 thoughts on “The Beach Cafe & The Voice by Mohammed Mrabet

  1. Samir,

    Your summary and review were a wonderful read. I very much liked hearing your opinion on Mrabet’s work. I must ask, where did you get a copy of “Th Beach Café” and “Voice”? I am having a near-impossible time sourcing a copy, and was wondering how you did it!

    A faithful fan,

    1. Thank you, Leila, for the kind words. I was fortunate to stumble upon this book in a second hand bookstore, and in all the years since then, I have never come across any of the other titles in secondhand bookstores or markets. It is really sad because they seem impossible to get, yet I would love to read Bowels’ remaining translations.

      1. You are beyond lucky! I am considering dropping a small fortune on a copy of “The Beach Café” online, though I have found some of his other work more accessible, either fiscally, or based on my experiences running into some of his other work in used book shops. Amazon is key! Thank you so much for all of your help, and certainly, keep writing!

  2. I just ordered this book as well as “The Lemon” and “With Much Fire in the Heart: Letters of Mohammed Mrabet to Irving Stettner,” translated by Paul Bowles from Powell’s Books, a terrific (and enormous) “brick and mortar” bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that also has an online service. I think this author may have some things to teach me. Thanks for the recommendation!

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