By accident, I came across, Malika Oufkir's autobiography, written in collaboration with Michèle Fitoussi. Malika is the eldest daughter of ganeral Oufkir, who, in 1972, was the head of the attempted murder of Hassan II, father of the current king of Morocco. Oufkir was killed and his wife and six children were kept in prison for 20 years for his crime.
However, Malika's extraordinary story starts long before this took place. She was the adopted daughter of king Mohamed V, father of Hassan II. The king asked general Oufkir and his wife permission to adopt Malika, who would keep company and be educated alongside princess Lalla Mina, his daughter. Naturally, the royal request was not denied.
Malika's life is a fairy tale turned into horror movie. She lived in royal palaces until she was 17 years old, spoilt amongst every conceivable luxury - and against her will, as she wanted to be with her family, lead a normal life and leave the palace where she felt like a prisoner, watching the outside world through the windows of a car. Malika was educated by a stern, Alsatian governess and grew up among the king's mistresses and slaves, in the often Medieval traditions of that cloistered world.
The 1972 attempt to kill the king marks the end of the fairy tale. At the time, Malika had already been allowed to return home, where she continued her luxurious life, now with her own family. She travelled, sneaked into discos, went shopping in Europe and everything else her family's money would allow. Still, always carefully monitored by body-guards and the police.
The attempt fails and Oufkir dies, officially by "suicide". The king's revenge is cast upon the entire family: Oufkir's wife and their six children, aged between 2 and 18, are taken into prison. They remained in prison for 20 years, in conditions that were sure to result in a slow death: hunger, thirst, the unbearable hotness and coldness of the desert, lack of any medical assistance, the presence of all sorts of parasites, mice, scorpions, snakes and, from a point, the isolation of each family member into separate cells, without being able to see eachother for years. Still the Oufkirs were able to communicate among themselves through a crafty system, thanks to a transistor they were able to hide from the guards.
It's 20 years of their lives that were forever lost. Malika, who was 18 and a half when she was arrested for her father's crimes, feels that the best years of her life - in which she would've studied, travelled, loved, built a family - are being stolen from her. Her siblings lose their childhood and adolescence. The brutal physical and emotional pain they suffered leaves them scared for the rest of their lives.
Amazingly enough, they managed to survive all of this: disease, malnutrition, starvation and even suicide attempts.
After 11 years at Bir-Jdid, the worst of the various prisons they were in, four siblings are able to escape through a tunnel they dug up with a spoon and the lid from can of sardines. After a few days of running through the country, they manage to contact a French radio station; from that moment on, the pressure of International communities is too strong and the king finally releases the rest of the family - still keeping them under house arrest, in another golden cage, for a few more years.
The report is impressive. It's a very clear text, with a detail of emotions that is characteristic of people who have spent too much time alone with themselves, and felt deeper despair than most people. And who was able to keep, amidst such despair, a saving sense of humour. It's also a text that appeals to a sense of voyeurism in the reader: the descriptions of the harem, the lavish parties in the palace, the social contact with the king, the relationship with her family, the violence and suffering she was exposed to. But can you even write and read about personal suffering in any other way? Often, while I was reading the book (feeling guilty at how fast and keenly I was doing it), I would find myself stopping and telling myself that all of what I was reading was true, these were real people, who were still alive, at the end of the 20th century. That this had happened somewhere very close, while I was still leading a normal childhood, eating, sleeping, having a family, going to school. spending happy summers.
The book also leaves some doubts when it comes to the verosity of the facts and the roles of everyone. To what extent is Malika's version true - or, on a more delicate note, honest? We can choose not to believe certain entangled episodes, or to doubt the hardships of prison conditions, at least when it comes to certain details. We can detect a spirit of revenge in this autobiography. But when you think about the ambiguous nature of Malika's life - starting with the fact that her biological father tried to kill her adoptive father (and Malika did like the king), who, in turn actually killed the first and arrest his own adoptive daughter - maybe the dubious light of the story becomes less uncomfortable to us.
The edition of the book I own is from Grasset (1999) editors, Le Livre de Poche collection and is entitled La Prisonnière. In English the title of the book is Stolen Lives - Twenty Years in a Desert Jail and in Brazil, Companhia das Letras published the book under the name Eu, Malika Oufkir, Prisioneira do Rei.
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