Beyond simple remembrance

Nostalgia, loneliness and memory in the fourth novel by French-Moroccan Najib Arfaoui


Writing is often a secret passion. Every human being, once they learn to do it, experiences the urge to put their sensations, feelings, anxieties and longings in writing, usually on paper, whatever format it takes. Notes, diaries, winding pages, men and women treasure small and big secrets. The Franco-Moroccan Najib Arfaoui (Tangiers, 1943) does not escape this impulse. A resident in France since 1965, where his career has always been spent behind the counter or in the offices of a bank, he has built his narratives on the basis of his childhood and youth experiences, mostly spent in Tangiers and Tetouan.

It is only when he frees himself from what he believes to be the constraints of a job that he scrupulously judges as confidential, that is to say when he reaches the goal of retirement, that he begins to publish his novels. He burst onto the scene in 2017 with "Tingis Café", followed by "Vers cette rive inconnue" (2019) and "La fille de Dar Baroud" (2020), all originally in French, as well as his fourth novel, "Au-delà du simple souvenir" (Ed. L'Harmattan, 2021. 200 pages). On this occasion, Arfaoui ventures to examine - who hasn't? - a voluminous photo album. He dwells in particular on an old snapshot of his class, from which the memories sprout to the point of discovering and bringing to the surface the dark side of one's own existence.

Palacio real en Tetuán
Atalayar.- Tetuán 

This is the risk of any self-examination of one's own life, which in Arfaoui's case comes to the fore at a time when he is experiencing intense loneliness. A single image is enough to set in motion the cerebral process that brings to the surface so many experiences and truths that he always wanted to reject, including the sordid prejudices that conditioned his behaviour and his maladjustment to life itself.

The novel goes through a fundamental period in a convulsive Morocco that will reach its full independence in 1956, and in which his old classmates and classmates, as well as himself, of course, will be torn between very serious political, social and, in short, vital doubts. The old photograph forces him to revisit his past, to investigate what became of those classmates, friends and not so comrades, at the same time reconstituting the puzzle of his own life. He will end up integrating into it the piece that was missing to complete it, and that no one had ever dared to give him, so difficult and difficult was the secret to unveil.

Like so many young Moroccans, educated in the memory of the splendid history of the Arab nation, he reflects on why "Morocco, like all the countries of Islam, has hibernated for so long, while the West, alternating failures and victories, patiently built the conditions for individual and collective emancipation".


He acknowledges that Taha Housein's Egypt has endowed his generation with a small hope capable of resisting the outbreak of obscurantist fundamentalism, of which the Muslim Brotherhood was the spearhead. He regrets "having searched in vain for the heroes of our recent history who could have taken up the baton of the Arab renaissance".

He notes that Morocco has endowed itself with a constitutional monarchy that has facilitated the liberalisation not only of the economy, but also of minds. "A state based on the rule of law was born while national reconciliation was taking place. Morocco was opening up to the world and becoming an attractive country.  He returns to it to dust off what beats beyond his memories.