Author Tatsuhiro Ōshiro—who once served as the director of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum—is best known for storytelling that has made Okinawan history and culture accessible to a wider audience. He is credited with reinvigorating the traditional narrative dance form known as kumi odori by exploring themes of cultural hybridity and gender. His masterpiece, The Ryūkyū Disposition: A Novel, relates the buried chapter of world history in which the Ryūkyū Kingdom (present-day Okinawa) was annexed by Japan during its 19th-century modernization campaign.
Ōshiro is no stranger to controversy when it comes to current affairs. The Cocktail Party—which broaches the subject of rape committed by U.S. servicemen—is one example of Ōshiro’s efforts to portray the complexities of life under occupation for the natives of Okinawa, which hosts more than 70 percent of the U.S. military bases in Japan and is the nation’s poorest prefecture. Such works attest to the sense of injustice and betrayal harbored by a cultural group that lost a third of its civilian population in World War II and underwent a forced linguistic shift to Japanese that has resulted in the Okinawan dialect being listed by UNESCO as an endangered language.
Published in 2011, the novella To Futenma takes its title from Air Station Futenma, a U.S. marine base located in Ginowan, a city with a population of just under 100,000. The base has been at the center of a deadlock for two decades: local opponents of the U.S. military presence have organized mass protests aimed at shutting it down, while Tokyo has pushed forward with a relocation plan that would move it to a different part of the island, bringing with it the same adverse effects—aircraft accidents, noise, pollution, crime. Told through the eyes of a young woman who practices the art of kumi odori, To Futenma reveals a family’s intergenerational struggle to preserve their indigenous culture amid turmoil.
– Bonnie Huie
Once he crosses the hospital’s iron doorway, the narrator is trapped. And thus begins Ahmed Bouanani’s novella, The Hospital, wherein an unnamed guide navigates the labyrinthine world of a hospital on the outskirts of Casablanca. Despite scant details about the institution or the narrator’s illness, we understand that his stay is less than voluntary.
What emerges is a story of Casablanca’s beggars and madmen. As the narrator struggles to differentiate between reality and imagination, and maintain his sanity, he records the minutiae of the wards of one wing of the hospital. Through a series of short vignettes, the narrator describes events in wing C that transpire over a period of weeks, months, or even years. The portraits that emerge reveal his fellow patients’ simplicity, depravity, and naiveté without ever verging into pity or caricature. Relying heavily on colloquial dialogue, Bouanani creates a contained universe where God, sex, and family are equally lauded, condemned, and mocked.
The narrator himself alternates between remarkable lucidity, offering his observations with grim irony and detachment, and vivid hallucinations. Bouanani uses vibrant imagery to its best effect when describing the narrator’s descent into a dizzying fantasy world–one where his younger self and the incarnation of death both have speaking parts. Modeled after the author’s own stint in a tuberculosis sanatorium, The Hospital offers the reader a focused, almost claustrophobic look at the patients of wing C–some (the sexual predators and parricidal killers) abhorrent but nonetheless compelling. In short, Bouanani’s novella is a story of contrasts: health/disease, pureness/perversion, control/chaos, and lastly, resignation/rebellion. But more than a portrait of a single man’s odyssey through madness, the work offers a larger glimpse into one of Morocco’s darkest periods. Reflecting Bouanani’s experiences as a writer living in a climate of political unrest and harsh government repression, The Hospital is an allegory of the position of the artist and the conditions of the production of art in Morocco in the second half of the 20th century.
Since Bouanani’s death in 2011, artists in Morocco have been trying to revive interest in his works. So far, their efforts have resulted in a re-edition of The Hospital in both Morocco and France, and an upcoming Arabic translation of the novella. Bouanani’s writings should be framed within a broader, post-colonial aesthetic movement that sought to valorize Moroccan literature and film. The Hospital is an undeniably important work within that corpus. Beyond its historical significance, however, the novella stands out as a compelling and unique narrative characterized by Bouanani’s acerbic, engrossing, and magical prose.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).