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Driss Chraïbi: Naissance à l’aube (Birth at Dawn)

This is a follow-up to La Mère du printemps (Mother Spring) and, like that story, is a tribute to the early Islam conquerors. My comment on that book was Chraïbi’s enthusiasm might be somewhat lost on Europeans and the same comment applies here. This story is about the conquest of Cordoba and how the Berber conqueror, Tariq Bnou Ziyyad (Tariq ibn-Ziyad in English) carried it out. The main thrust of the story is that Tariq with the intervention of the wise old sage, Azwaw Aït Yafelman (whose family we have met in other Chraïbi books), will try to make Cordoba a perfect city and introduce the concept of Ummah, whereby all types of communities will live together in harmony (we even get a brief section on a Jewish community). Of course, it doesn’t quite work out that way. Firstly, Tariq’s boss tells him to back off and then, when he goes ahead anyway, he is thrown into prison, leaving his pregnant mistress. Chraïbi jumps ahead and shows us that things eventually work out in Cordoba but, by this time, Tariq Bnou Ziyyad is long since dead and Chraïbi leaves us with one of his trademark stories, set more or less in the present, with a savvy Moroccan outsmarting a Frenchman but Europeans might be left wondering whether this is really relevant to them.

Publishing history

First in French by Editions du Seuil 1986
First English translation by Three Continents Press in 1980
Translated by Ann Woollcombe