Best Translated Book Award 2011
Each visitor brings his own memory, each relates that biographical detail he himself witnessed, or knows by hearsay. So, little by little, a novel is built out of many voices, a hagiography composed of anecdotes, witticisms, character traits, a long list of virtues, good deeds, and unsuspected talents that no one would think of disputing. Piously arranged, the novel keeps evolving as long as it continues to be transmitted.
Morocco’s Abdelfattah Kilito is a man who takes the memories of himself, memories of time and memories of place braids them together, ties them up with a narrative and gives them to us in The Clash of Images. These images that Kilito renders are set among the varied and magical worlds he creates in these thirteen linked stories told through the eyes of Abdallah, a man who remembers the simplicity and confusion of what it means to be a boy. Mostly drawn from his childhood when the tradition of storytelling was changing from the oral tradition to the visual tradition, particularly with the advent of cinema, these are striking stories told in an nostalgic, direct style that pays homage to the promise of the image in all its reincarnations. Kilito recalls the beautiful loyalty to an instructor of the msid by his students in “Revolt in the Msid,” the experience of the movies in his local theater with a projectionist he did his own edits while the film was showing in” Cinedays,” and the experience of the mystical journey into the public baths in “A Season in the Hamman.” The opening story is “The Wife of R.” which is well-chosen–a fable that recounts a wife who peeks out her window to look at the neighborhood only to invent stories that she tells her husband every night as she lays at his feet.
These are the snippets of the life of Abdallah, some imagined, some real. But the line between fiction and fact moves and blurs, creating a world that enchants with all the images Kilito’s memory had to offer. No more than 110 pages, it’s not a book that delves into the depths of what a life was like, but polishes the moments when a realization was reached and distills them for the reader in a poignant and accomplished manner. The translator, Robyn Creswell, won the PEN Translation Fund Award for this collection and deservedly so. He loses none of the ephemeral quality of these memories, grounding each story in the essence of Kilito’s style. And like the voices of the street Abdallah remembers long ago, Kilito is a new literary muezzin that demands to be heard:
These voices are no more, replaced today by those of itinerant trinket salesmen and sidewalk peddlers. But one voice, that of the muezzin, always makes itself heard, braving time and the vicissitudes of history–gentle at dawn, aggressive at midday, lazy in the afternoon, serene at sunset, appeased in the evening.
Other works by Abdelfattah Kilito: