Hey! Randy

Change of Life

Posted by heyrandy on March 5, 2012

Stolen Lives, Twenty Years in a Kesert Jail, Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi, translated from the French by Ros Schwartz, 1999

She went from being the oldest child of the Moroccan Defense Minister to social outcast and prisoner. It only took a few days, but it lasted twenty years.

Malika Oufkir grew up in the inner circle of Moroccan power. Her father rose through the ranks in the army to become Interior Minister and later Defense Minister. She was the adopted sister (it is a Moroccan custom) of the king’s daughter. Life in the palace was pleasant, but she was constantly watched lest anything happen to her. This would bring dishonor on the king.

Oufkir’s world ended when her father was executed after a failed coup attempt. She, her mother, and her five siblings were arrested and imprisoned in increasing harsh jails. Their friends abandoned them, afraid that any contact would bring them into closer contact. The Oufkir family was alone in a very hostile world.

The prison was a horror. Vermin, filth, little food were just the beginning. The family was kept separated in adjoining cells. The mother and her three-year old son were in one cell, Malika and her three sisters were in another, with her brother by himself in a third. They were not allowed to see each other. The fight against insanity was the big effort. All the children forsook Islam, their birth religion, and converted to Christianity. The mother remained a Muslim. Milka got her mother to teach the children the Christian prayers the mother had learned when she was a student in a Catholic school.

In a sense the book is a bildungsroman. Malika kept the family going. She was the morale officer, the disciplinarian, the cheerleader. Prison changed her from the spoiled brat she called herself to an adult. But she paid a heavy price.

She and three of the family escaped by digging a tunnel. They only were free for five days, but the escape sparked international interest in their plight. Upon capture the authorities moved the family to a large house. They were still not free, but their conditions improved. International pressure was building on the Moroccan king. They were finally allowed to leave Morocco.

I would have liked to have had more information about the Moroccan culture. There were some things that could have used some explanation. A brief history of Morocco would have given valuable context to the events. Even with these shortcomings the book is worthwhile.

Building a life is the next challenge. She has taken a huge step. She married in Paris. Maybe she will write a sequel.

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