Tahar Ben Jelloun

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Tahar Ben Jelloun 1944-

Moroccan-born French novelist, poet, short story writer, playwright, travel writer, and nonfiction writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Ben Jelloun's career through 2003.

Born in Morocco, Ben Jelloun was the first writer from one of France's former North African colonies to receive the country's prestigious Prix Goncourt award for his novel La Nuit sacrée (1987; The Sacred Night). His works combine elements of both the French and Moroccan literary traditions, bringing a unique multicultural perspective to the body of post-colonial literature. Written primarily in French, Ben Jelloun's novels, poetry, and nonfiction works exhibit a diverse range of influences from lyrical Koranic imagery to Freudian psychoanalytical theory. Scholars regard Ben Jelloun as one of the most prolific modern authors of the Maghreb region—an area comprised of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, and Tunisia—and commend his continuing focus on gender, political, and social relations within the Arab world.

Biographical Information

Ben Jelloun was born on December 21, 1944, in Fez, Morocco. When he was eighteen, Ben Jelloun's family moved to Tangier, where he attended the local French secondary school. In 1963 he enrolled at the University of Morocco in Rabat to study philosophy and participated in the publication of the radical political review Soufflés. Under the tutelage of Soufflés' founder, poet Abdellatif Laabi, Ben Jelloun began composing poetry, later publishing his first collection, Hommes sous linceul de silence, in 1970. In 1966 he was arrested by the government for participating in Leftist political activity and was forced to perform national service in the Moroccan army. Ben Jelloun eventually returned to his studies, teaching courses in philosophy in Tetouan and Casablanca while pursuing his degree. After graduating in 1971, he immigrated to France, where he enrolled in the Universite de Paris VII. He received his Ph.D. in psychiatric social work in 1975, having worked as a psychotherapist from 1972 to 1975. In 1973 Ben Jelloun released his first novel, Harrouda, and began to focus on his writing career, contributing frequently to such publications as Le Monde and La Repubblica. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Ben Jelloun published a number of novels, poems, and nonfiction works before attracting widespread international acclaim for La Nuit sacrée. He has been awarded several awards and accolades for his body of work, including the Prix de l'Amitie Franco-Arabe for Les amandiers sort morts de leurs blessures (1976), the Prix Goncourt in 1987, and the Prix Maghreb in 1994.

Major Works

Critical response to Ben Jelloun's work has focused primarily on his novels, with scholars noting his skillful construction of narratives that examine psychologically complex characters who struggle to survive in the challenging socio-political climate of the post-colonial Arab world. His early novels also explore elements from Ben Jelloun's own life, evincing...

(The entire section is 1,721 words.)