Posts filed under 'architecture'

Teeming With Speech: Youssef Fadel’s A Shimmering Red Fish Swims with Me

In Fadel’s hands, the entire nonhuman world is brimming with life, and even with volition.

A Shimmering Red Fish Swims with Me by Youssef Fadel, translated from the Arabic by Alexander E. Elinson, Hoopoe, 2019

A massive construction project looms in the background of Moroccan author Youssef Fadel’s novel Farah (2016), beautifully translated from the Arabic by Alexander E. Elinson and published under the title A Shimmering Red Fish Swims with Me (Hoopoe 2019). The project in question is the building of Casablanca’s Hassan II Mosque, named after the Moroccan ruler who commissioned it. As Elinson explains in a concise and illuminating foreword to his translation, King Hassan II (r. 1962-1999) announced his plan to build a grand mosque on Casablanca’s Atlantic shoreline during his 1980 birthday celebrations. The mosque was inaugurated in 1993, on the eve of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Designed by a French architect and built by a French firm, the mosque project required the labor of over thirty thousand workers, including thousands of master craftsmen who carved, chiseled, sculpted, and formed its dazzling array of tile mosaics, stucco moldings, and decorative woodwork. The structure that emerged from this massive effort accommodates up to one hundred and five thousand worshippers, making it the largest mosque in Africa and one of the largest mosques in the world—but such grandeur comes at a huge cost, both financial and human. The mosque came with a whopping price tag of over half a billion US dollars, and much of the financial burden fell on Moroccan citizens, who were required to help pay for the mosque through a public subscription program. The project also upended life in Casablanca, particularly for the people who lived in the densely populated neighborhood that was razed to create room for the new mosque.

These upheavals are at the heart of Fadel’s novel, which explores the experiences of the Moroccans who both lived in the shadows of, and contributed to, the construction project, and who were eventually displaced to make room for the massive mosque that they had helped build. A Shimmering Red Fish Swims with Me is Fadel’s tenth novel and the final book in a trilogy about contemporary Morocco. The novel centers on an ill-fated love story between two young Moroccans: Farah, who escapes her hometown of Azemmour and comes to Casablanca to pursue her dream of becoming a singer, and Outhman, who works with his father as a carpenter at the mosque. The lovers’ fate is sealed in the novel’s first chapter, where we learn that Farah is the victim of a brutal acid attack, witnessed by Outhman. The rest of the novel is devoted to unpacking the events leading up to the acid attack on Farah. The story is told through an intricate narrative structure that unfolds along multiple timelines and from multiple perspectives, meting out information in suspenseful portions whose full meanings do not become clear until the last page. Each of the novel’s seven sections opens with a chapter narrated from the perspective of a third-person omniscient narrator located in the present, some twenty-three years after Farah’s death. The internal chapters of each section are narrated in the first person from Outhman’s perspective, beginning at the time he met and fell in love with Farah while working at the mosque’s construction site. The last chapter of each section is narrated in the first person from the perspective of another character in the novel, such as Farah or Outhman’s mother. The result is a kaleidoscopic view of working-class life in Casablanca, one that uses the tragic love story between Farah and Outhman as a launch pad for exploring the tensions running through Moroccan society in the 1980s and ’90s and, in particular, for laying bare the tremendous costs that the Hassan II Mosque inflicted on the people living around it.


Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

In Romania and Albania this week, literature abounds.

Any occasion to celebrate language is a happy one, as demonstrated in this week’s dispatches from Romania and Albania. With events honoring Romanian Language Day and an emphasis on Albanian literature in Italy, the forces propelling the continuation and evolution of literary language are well and alive. Read on for the news, reported from the ground by our committed editors.

Andreea Scridon, Assistant Editor, reporting from Romania

Romanian Language Day has officially been celebrated on August 31 since 2011. This year, I had the privilege of being in Romania to observe this holiday, more specifically to find myself in Cluj-Napoca, a city with a powerful literary scene thanks to its academic and historical tradition. The event dedicated to this occasion (held one day before, on August 30) was held in an interwar casino revamped into an art gallery in Cluj’s central park, and the general public ranged from the city’s literary elite to a group of kids in baseball caps.

Horia Bădescu, one of the representative literary figures of the 1960s (available in English and French translation) and historian and writer Ovidiu Pecican spoke on the history, significance, evolution, and particularities of the Romanian language, while professor of journalism and writer Ilie Rad and translator Gabriela Lungu (who has translated books like Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn, among many others, from Italian to Romanian) discussed the originality, richness, and their own intimate perceptions of the Romanian language.


Imagined Bridges: On Ivo Andrić’s The Bridge Over the Drina

What does medieval Bosnia have to do with a destroyed-and-rebuilt Italian bridge? An architect responds.

The word bridge comes from the words log and beam; the earliest bridges were trees that fell over and connected two opposing banks. The wood beams that make this bridge, the Ponte Coperto in Pavia, Italy, are exalted in the vault, their circumference larger than any neighboring tree. The columns that support this vast lid were exhumed from a mountain of granite, their chisel marks and eased edges the distilled labors of a multitude of hands. Up close, they are heavy, rutted, imperfect—but from a distance the columns stand delicately, twenty-four strong on each side of a thickened waist. The roofed colonnade is held by four arches that touch the river in three places below. The sense of solidity underfoot is echoed overhead, shelter and possibility both made new in the connection.