Archive for June, 2013

Mahi Binebine in Conversation

Posted: June 4, 2013 in Events


On 23 April we welcomed the Moroccan novelist and painter Mahi Binebine to Oxford. He was accompanied by Sarah Ardizzone, his interpreter, and Lulu Norman, who has been awarded an English PEN Translation Award for her translation of Binebine’s latest novel, Horses of God (Granta, 2013).

Binebine and Norman read from the book in French and English, and in conversation with PEN committee member Asha Rogers and the audience of students and academics they discussed the processes of writing and translating this novel, which follows the story of a young suicide bomber from Sidi Moumen, a shantytown outside Casablanca.

Norman said that she had translated the book quickly: there was a sense of urgency to the project, she explained. Binebine said he was struck by how successfully Norman had managed to capture the perfume of Sidi Moumen, carrying over into English the sensory atmosphere which he sought to portray.

The book’s French title is Les Étoiles de Sidi Moumen, a reference to the football team which Yachine, the main character, and his friends belong to. Discussion with the audience considered Binebine’s portrayals of the often brutal relationships between men in Sidi Moumen, but also brought but the compassion which he extends to and elicits for his characters. It’s a controversial subject, but Binebine was determined to find some way of exploring what goes on in the mind of a young person who could be driven to an act of violence which would claim many lives.

The book was prompted by the Casablanca bombings in 2003: the 12 suicide bombers responsible for these attacks hailed from Sidi Moumen. Binebine explained that it took him a long time to write: he began the project in 2004 but stopped in 2006 because he found himself feeling as if he had to apologise for terrorism. He spent a great deal of time in Sidi Moumen, talking to people and trying to understand the world that Yachine and his counterparts in real life come from. There’s a difference, he said, between understanding and legitimisation; between comprehension and justification. It’s the work of understanding which Horses of God seeks to do.