CHICAGO: Malika Moustadraf, one of Morocco’s most outspoken literary and feminist activists, was 37 when she died in 2006.
She has published a novel and a collection of short stories from which was born “Blood Feast: The Complete Short Stories of Malika Moustadraf”.
Collected and translated into English by Alice Guthrie, a freelance translator specializing in contemporary Arabic writing, Moustadraf’s stories travel through the streets of Casablanca, touching every corner of Moroccan life, from social disparity that robs dignity and leaves helpless people, stories of forced identities and a pure look at a society steeped in patriarchy.
Guthrie, who has read and translated Moustadraf’s work since 2016, wrote that Moustadraf was a “gifted maverick writer” who grew “from strength to strength even as his health deteriorated”.
Only ever published in Morocco, Moustadraf’s work remains too powerful to be confined, his uniquely Moroccan stories being told around the world.
Since 1999, when Moustadraf self-published her first novel, she has focused on an “unwavering look at the worst traumas of the female experience in patriarchal society, shot through with wit, puns and cutting political commentary”.
The collection begins with a story of marriage and the implication that purity is a woman’s responsibility, whether rich or poor.
Moustadraf’s stories are brief but powerful, and the collection delves into the poverty of an exhausted cigarette salesman. The young man curses his parents and his sister, who have married a Frenchman and promised to provide them with immigration papers. His life repeats itself every day and hope diminishes.
There’s a desperation in his characters and yet a complacency that life isn’t meant to be easy. Each character is tested by society, such as the transgender person who is meant to choose an identity and the woman who is forced to live in limbo when she cannot divorce.
Moustadraf shares his own semi-autobiographical story which is the centerpiece of the collection.
A patient waits in a hospital after being told he has kidney disease and without the proper medical attention and funds, the story almost mimics his own. She writes about illness and poverty and talks about the comfort of ease as a privilege, not a right.
Death is always near in his collection, which is more of a goal than a consequence, as life is lived with little control.
Gone ahead of its time, Moustadraf’s work will continue to make its way into the literary world as her feminist activism ignites through her writing.