Nominated by:

Deichmanske Bibliothek, Oslo, Norway

Publisher of nominated edition:

The New Press

2004 – This Blinding Absence of Light

Tahar Ben Jelloun      

Translated from the original French by Linda Coverdale

Winner of the 2004 Award

2004 Shortlist     2004 Longlist

The Judges’ Citation

This Blinding Absence of Light is a masterpiece among novels, told with searing simplicity and the sparest of language (due credit to the translator, Linda Coverdale).

It tells one man’s story of twenty years in appalling conditions of deprivation, brutality, inhumanity, silence –
” the silence of absence, the blinding absence of life”.

Based on facts, it takes this true story and transforms it into a powerful novel.
The story about the hellholes and the survivors – the living cadavers – is a moving description of both unlimited evil and the power of human spirit to survive.

Once you open Tahar Ben Jelloun’s book about this underground prison in the deserts of Morocco you will not emerge before you have explored it, with him, in the pure and lucid language that he employs and that acts like a steadfast candle in the darkness.

We admire the novel’s beauty and clarity of language, its formal restraint which gives it subtle power, its commitment to its terrible subject, its passionate evocation of the human soul and the will to survive.

Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novel is graphic and philosophical, intensely interior and fully political, a literary and metaphysical journey into an Islamic-based humanism that alone secures the tortured individual’s sanity and existence against an otherwise overwhelmingly meaningless suffering endured in the condition of a ‘blinding absence of light’.

This novel is important for many reasons. It is that marvelous modern invention – the trans-national and cross-cultural novel – composed by a writer with a keen instinct for the stories that absolutely must be told.

It is a story read against a continuing background of deprivation and inhumanity in today’s headlines.

All of us on the jury recognise that this is a book of another order, covering the widest range of human potential for good, evil and redemption. It reiterates, as only once in a while a book does, the true purpose of literature.

Judges: Anita Desai, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, John Quinn, Knut Ødegård, Michèle Roberts. Non-voting Chair, Judge Eugene R. Sullivan

About the Book

An immediate and critically acclaimed bestseller in France, This Blinding Absence of Light is the latest work by Tahar Ben Jelloun, the first North African winner of the 1994 Prix Mahgreb. Ben Jelloun crafts a horrific real-life narrative into fiction to tell the appalling story of the desert concentration camps in which King Hassan II of Morocco held his political enemies under the most harrowing conditions. Not until September 1991, under international pressure, was Hassan’s regime forced to open these desert hellholes. A handful of survivors – living cadavers who had shrunk by over a foot in height – emerged from the six-by-three-foot cells in which they had been held underground for decades.
Working closely with one of the survivors, Ben Jelloun eschewed the traditional novel format and wrote the book in the simplest of language, reaching always for the most basic of words, the most correct descriptions. The result is a shocking novel that explores both the limitlessness of inhumanity and the impossible endurance of the human will.

About the Author

Winner of the 1994 Prix Maghreb, Tahar Ben Jelloun was born in 1944 in Fez, Morocco, and emigrated to France in 1961. A novelist, essayist, critic and poet, he is a regular contributor to Le Monde, La Répubblica, El País, and Panorama. His novels include The Sacred Night, which received the Prix Goncourt in 1987, and Corruption.