Tahar Ben Jelloun
Tahar Ben Jelloun was born in Fez, Morocco in 1944. The year before Moroccan independence from France in 1956, his family moved to Tangier. He studied philosophy at the University of Rabat, and in 1966 was arrested alongside 94 other protestors for taking part in student demonstrations in Casablanca. He spent the following eighteen months in internment camps, here composing his first poetry. He occupied his mind with James Joyce’s Ulysses while in prison – a book smuggled in by his brother.
After his release, Ben Jalloun worked as a teacher of philosophy in Tetuan and Casablanca, before the government decreed that philosophy be taught only in classical Arabic. He sought exile in Paris in 1971, where he wrote for the magazine Souffles and studied for his doctorate in social psychology. His thesis on the sexual misery of North African immigrants in France was published in 1975 as The Highest Solitude. It was his first bestseller, though a prior novel, Harounda (1973) had already won him critical plaudits from Samuel Beckett and Roland Barthes.
Ben Jalloun has written for a range of European newspapers, including France’s Le Monde, Italy’s La Repubblica and Spain’s El País. He is also the recipient of a number of literary accolades, including the Prix Goncourt for The Sacred Night (1987), and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for This Blinding Absence of Light (2001).