- Francophone Voices of the “New” Morocco in Film and Print: (Re)presenting a Society in Transition
Valérie Orlando’s book presents voices from contemporary literature and film that are rarely engaged outside of Morocco. In introducing, summarizing, and analyzing these often fascinating texts, Orlando also presents vivid visions of post-Hassan II Moroccan society and the challenges it faces.
Perhaps the most important part of this book is its very idea—that works of fiction written in Morocco and published by small local publishing houses deserve and require critical attention. Firstly, this is a most welcome departure from the focus on canonic North African francophone writers that still often exists in American and French universities. In its treatment of authors such as Rida Lamrini, Touria Oulehri, Fatna El Bouih, Abdellah Taïa, Fouad Laroui, and Youssef Elalamy, the book joins a corpus of critical work that is interested in Moroccan francophone literature beyond Tahar Ben Jelloun. Secondly, the book counters a discourse of prestige politics often reproduced in Morocco that claims that local publishing houses are vanity presses, and that Parisian publishers set the mark of quality and taste. Orlando’s book demonstrates how small publishing houses produce timely and sometimes exquisite work that, free of the encouraged exoticism from the French publishing world, can serve as “an imperative link to future debates on reform, modernity, and cultural transitions” (xvi).
In the introduction, Orlando presents a useful history of three generations of francophone writing in Morocco in order to contextualize the third and most recent generation that the book primarily addresses. This third generation, she argues, has broken with nationalist discourse in order to articulate relationships between the marginalized individual and on-going transformations in contemporary Moroccan society (14). Orlando’s approach throughout the book is to show how these third-generation authors function as activists, producing literary and filmic texts that engage contemporary societal debates about gender, political reform, human rights abuse, and, more generally, the role of the individual in the future of the country: “The Moroccan author and/or journalist (some are both) rarely writes without some connection to a sociocultural project that s/he hopes will alter the way citizens think about the ongoing sociopolitical and cultural developments taking place in the country” (130–31). In this light, Orlando devotes significant attention to the work of writers invested in giving voice to and [End Page 197] remembering the abuses of the Lead Years in Morocco, and to works that map the transformations of gender and sexuality in the country. She also presents a chapter on writers who articulate a new humanism that surpasses the nation’s borders.
While Orlando draws on Moroccan literary criticism in her presentation of recent works, surprisingly the main theoretical reference point in her discussion of activism and humanism throughout the book is Jean-Paul Sartre. While Sartre’s “engaged public intellectual” may work for the book, it is a choice that requires some justification, considering the numerous models of engaged intellectuals that exist in an African context. In this regard Orlando’s book is symptomatic of francophone studies in general where the theoretical apparatus is too often routed through French theory and literature, and sustained engagement with interdisciplinary African studies or recent theory emerging from anthropology and cultural studies is regrettably absent.
While the wide scope of the book doesn not allow for extensive engagement with each work or its aesthetic choices, Orlando succeeds in documenting how recent fiction and film represent contemporary issues in Moroccan society, and in this regard, provides a valuable roadmap to post-1999 Moroccan cultural production.