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Driss Chraïbi: La Mère du printemps (Mother Spring)
This book is indeed a novel but it is above all a paean to Berbers and Berber culture. It starts with Raho Aït Yafelman, whom we have already met in Une enquête au pays (Flutes of Death), and shows how he once again outsmarts the Europeans. However, it quickly moves back to the seventh century, when the Aït Yafelmans were colonizing the Oum Er-Rbia river area. The focus of the story is on Azwaw Aït Yafelman, who is chief of the tribe settled around the Oum Er-Rbia. Much of the story is a loving description of their culture and practices, which includes a strong role for women in the local politics. They are generally peaceful though they do have disputes with some local tribes. They even have a small Jewish community in their midst, from whom they learn not only about Judaism but also about Christianity and Islam. During the course of the story, they do face adversity, including drought, famine and disease, but Azwaw manages to pull them through and the tribe does survive. We also learn about Azwar and his love for his wife, Hineb. While he longs for a son, he is happy with his daughter, Yerma, though he does finally get a son.
However, they increasingly hear about the impending arrivals of the Arabs under Uqba ibn Nafi and are naturally worried about what this might mean. Azwaw realizes that adaptation is needed and learns Arabic, converts to Islam and even, thanks to the suggestion of the rabbi, names his son Yassin (Ya-Sin, in Islam, may well be the initials of the Prophet but its true meaning is known only to Allah.) One section is devoted to Uqba ibn Nafi‘s perspective and his determination to impose Islam on the peoples he conquers. He meets resistance from the Berbers and puts down their resistance with violence. But Azwaw and his councils have made a decision, namely not to resist and, thanks to the name Yassin, this more or less works.
While this story is certainly well told and it is certainly interesting to read of pre-Islamic peoples and how they faced up to their impending conquest (clearly, better than those in Europe), Chraïbi’s enthusiasm might be somewhat lost on Europeans, however much we might admire his ancestors. Only the final clash between the two cultures is distinctive whereas the rest, while loving and joyous, tends somewhat to be over-romanticised, at least to this Westerner.
First in French by Editions du Seuil 1982
First English translation 1989 by Three Continents Press
Translated by Hugh Harter