Nominated by:

Chicago Public Library, USA

Publisher of nominated edition:

Tin House Books, USA

Horses of God

Mahi Binebine      

Translated from the French by Lulu Norman

2015 Shortlist

Judges’ Comments

Horses of God by Mahi Binebine, translated by Lulu Norman, is a story told from beyond the grave, as our narrator reconstructs for us the short life he lived before he and a group of friends, would-be martyrs, joined a terrorist group and blew themselves up in an expensive Casablanca hotel. Binebine and Norman create an arrestingly vital and yet profoundly sad voice for the teenage lad who is telling us his story – a character filled with unlikely sympathy and innocence – and a tense, vivid world for him to live in: the city’s terrible but inescapable Sidi Moumen slums. Beautifully wrought, Horses of God is a fierce, fearless and important book.

About the Book

On May 16, 2003, fourteen suicide bombers launched a series of attacks throughout Casablanca. It was the deadliest attack in Morocco’s history. The bombers came from the shantytowns of Sidi Moumen, a poor suburb on the edge of a dump whose impoverished residents rarely if ever set foot in the cosmopolitan city at their doorstep. Mahi Binebine’s novel Horses of God follows four childhood friends growing up in Sidi Moumen as they make the life-changing decisions that will lead them to become Islamist martyrs.

The seeds of fundamentalist martyrdom are sown in the dirt-poor lives of Yachine, Nabil, Fuad, and Ali, all raised in Sidi Moumen. The boys’ soccer team, The Stars of Sidi Moumen, is their main escape from the poverty, violence, and absence of hope that pervade their lives. When Yachine’s older brother Hamid falls under the spell of fundamentalist leader Abu Zoubeir, the attraction of a religion that offers discipline, purpose, and guidance to young men who have none of these things becomes too seductive to ignore.

Narrated by Yachine from the afterlife, Horses of God portrays the sweet innocence of childhood and friendship as well as the challenges facing those with few opportunities for a better life. Binebine navigates the controversial situation with compassion, creating empathy for the boys, who believe they have no choice but to follow the path offered them.

(from publisher)

About the Author

Mahi Binebine was born in Marrakech in 1959. He studied in Paris and taught Mathematics, until he became recognized first as a painter then as a novelist. Binebine lived in the USA in the late 1990s when his paintings started to be acquired by the Guggenheim Museum.

About the Translator

Lulu Norman is a writer, translator and editor who lives in London. Her translation of Mahi Binebine’s Welcome to Paradise was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and she has been awarded a 2013 English PEN Award for outstanding writing in translation for this translation of Horses of God.

Librarian’s Comments

This novel by Moroccan author Binebine concerns young  boys who become suicide bombers, and it upends much of what is often assumed about such lives. Based on events in Casablanca in 2004, Binebine’s novel avoids sentimentality and becomes a haunting and insightful look at lives of hardship and poverty.

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