THE RIDDLE OF
EDMOND AMRAN EL MALEH

'ahjiat 'iidmun amran almalih - A novel by: Mohammed Said Hjiouij

Franz Goldstein was not just a mere publisher, neither was Editions des Sables a mere publishing house. Goldstein dedicated his work, life, and his secret circles to serve the cause which made its way ahead through a novel must-shortlisted for a literary award. Amran El Maleh in turn was not simply a member of that literary award jury, nor a mere Moroccan critic for the French newspaper Le Monde. Amran was a Jew submerged in the hubbub of issues, torn between a homeland promised by God and another one he is inhabiting. But finally discovered the frailty of his cause since the slap of Abraham, on Yom HaShoah in kibbutz, has shaken all his hopes for the Promised Land. Amran is mesmerized by Aunt Mimouna’s prophecies, to whom the Rabbi of Meknes revealed the secret that she is one of the Tzadikim Nistarim, as he is also the one crawling under the memory burden of being the one who revealed the secret of Jewish immigrants to the Egyptian intelligence who drowned the ship Egoz. The Jews who were swallowed up by the sea that day were also killed for the sake of the cause. This cause is feeding on offerings and sacrifices, and he is no longer willing to participate in the binge of blood and deception. Amran is the one who will say no to Franz, and he is the one who will dearly pay the price for that “no”. Amran will be an offering too, but on a different mizbeaḥ... or conceivably, on more than one.


Reviews

“I am so moved by this beautiful writing, and that the author is writing in first person about a Jewish Israeli man in the 73 war. I was so surprised. I read the excerpt, it is so interesting and I want to know what happens next. The author writes so fluently. This POV is so interesting. It is very brave as a writer to do it. I really appreciate it, and find that it is a way to communicate and explore a situation and culture in a most refreshing way. Am sure it will interest Israelis, but also in English too. It should be translated to Hebrew.”
— Iris Hassid. Photographer. Author of the monograph ‘A Place of our own’. Cofounder of the collective Binyamin Gallery in Tel Aviv.

“The Best of what has been published in 2020, the postmodern novel in its fullest manifestations, excellent editing, this is the type of novels I adore, the novel that give you no certainty and you cannot summarize it to anyone.”
— Kamel Riahi. Tunisian writer. Recipient of the Golden Komar Award for Tunisian Novel.

“An artistic adventure novel. A novel worthy of reading.”
— Ibrahim Abdel Meguid. Egyptian novelist. Recipient of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal and the State Appreciation Prize in Literature.

“The novel reckons with [the topic of normalization] with exciting breaths of experimental literature in its composition and narrative plot, undoubtedly reaching an attractive and masterful extent; despite being short, its density facilitates addressing many issues pairing between imagination and reality, the present and the past, the aspirations and the remembered memories, the nightmarish and the kafkaesque absurdity, between the overlapping of voices and narrators, and between the real and the fake.”
— Maen Albayari. Head of the Op-Ed section in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper.

“The author shows up anew, with this novel, to prove that fiction or creative work in general is a work that seeks to transcend ready-made templates to make a revolution of expression.”
— Fatima Ouaiaou. Moroccan critic.

Translation sample

Five years had passed since I’d immigrated from Morocco to Israel. Today is Yom Kippur. The IDF call of the reserves. Hardly a few months had passed since I’d completed my three-year conscription period. I thought for a moment of ignoring the call. I don't know why. What I knew with certainty was that I could not stand the consequences of ignoring it. The charge of high treason would be a highway to my execution.

The day is October 6, 1973. I tossed my wild thoughts aside. I left my Israeli identity to seize control and push me to take my uniform and run down towards what I knew obscurely to be my inevitable fate. The fate that Aunt Mimouna warned me of, when she had visited me in a dream the night before I left Morocco.

She stared at me for a long time. Two tears rolled down her cheeks. She wiped her tears and patted my right cheek with her wet fingers. Aunt Mimouna begged me not to immigrate. “You must stay in Morocco,” she said, “or you will find yourself, time after time, amid vain wars.”

I woke up and touched the cheek which Aunt Mimouna had patted with her palm. It was warm. I was heartsick for our neighbor, Mimouna, whom I heard had disappeared right after my family had moved from Meknes to Casablanca. The sudden disappearances of the Jews had become common. It meant that the missing persons had immigrated. Primarily to Israel, or if they were rich, they would stay in France. Still, I doubtless knew that Morocco lived in the heart of Aunt Mimouna. She had no home but Morocco. She had no intention of immigrating to the Promised Land. I knew that there was a secret behind her disappearance, especially that I had never forgotten the old tale that was being told about her.

The story had started forty years before her second disappearance, on the exact day when the flower of her twentieth year blossomed. She disappeared all of a sudden. Her father almost went crazy after he searched for her, and all the men of Mellah, the Jewish quarter, searched with him for months, but in vain. It was said that a young Muslim seduced her and left her after he had satisfied his desire. Some young men swore they were telling the truth and nothing but the truth. But it turned out later that they had lied to pay back the young man for some unsettled dispute between them. It was said too that Mimouna's father and some men who were with him had ambushed the young Muslim and brought him blindfolded and handcuffed to beit almin. The Jewish cemetery outside the Mellah. The young man confessed, after they had broken his finger joints and removed one of his teeth, all his sins and misdeeds but nothing about the missing young Mimouna. In the end, the father conceded to the Lord’s ordinance and devoted himself to serving the temple and supplicating night and day for the Lord to return his daughter to him, as he returned Joseph to Jacob. His daughter who had been his only companion since his wife passed away on the day she gave birth to Mimouna. A year after Mimouna’s disappearance, the Lord answered. Finally, Mimouna showed up. But she was not alone. She came back with a baby. Everyone who saw her was stunned, and her father, who came out running after hearing the news of her return, lost his ability to stand when he saw the newborn in her arms.

For longer excerpt contact: Mohammed Said Hjiouij [email protected]