Interview with longlisted author Yassin Adnan
When did you begin writing Hot Maroc and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I began writing Hot Maroc at a writers' residency on the Cote D'Azur in March 2011. At that time I had been harmed by some online trolls who cause people trouble in the virtual atmosphere. I was wondering: "Who are these anonymous people with borrowed names who poison the online atmosphere on facebook and various interactive platforms on the internet? And why are they intent on spoiling people's dreams and attacking everything that moves?" The phenomenon had become widespread in Morocco. So I decided to work on it. Thus I invented Rahhal Laâouina and made him the protagonist of a short story which I intended to finish during the residency, before finding myself caught up in its story lines, hidden corners and narrative mazes for a longer period than I had imagined.
Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?
It took a whole five years, since I only finished it at the beginning of September 2015 in Brussels, having dedicated all of my Summer holiday to the last few chapters. It was an improvised writers' residency and I was a guest of my brother, the poet Taha Adnan, who hosted me in his Brussels flat. We'd wake up in the morning and he would go off to work, while I stayed alone in the flat occupied with the novel. I didn't return to Morocco that Summer until I had finished the work. The funny thing is that not even a single chapter of this novel, which speaks of Marrakech and changes in the city and country as a whole over the last four decades, was actually written in Marrakech. I began it in the south of France and finished it in Brussels, and large parts of it were written during two writers' residencies in America (one in Montalvo, California, and the other in Vermont). In Marrakech I couldn't continue working on the book. It was as if I needed some distance from the city in order to write about it better. It was a particular challenge to write about the city of which Nobel laureate Elias Canetti wrote his wonderful Voices of Marrakech, Claude Ollier his Marrakch-Médine and Juan Goytisolo wrote more than one novel, while Marrakech has remained impenetrable and resistant to those who belong to it.
How have readers and critics received it?
It had a reassuring reception by critics and so far the Arab press has published a number of encouraging reviews of it. People on facebook are enthusiastic about the novel. I admit that I'm satisfied with the positive engagement of readers until now. Besides Dar al-Ain’s edition that was nominated for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Hot Maroc has also been published in a local edition in Morocco, which ran out in less than four months, so the Moroccan publishing house released a second edition. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the Students' Parents and Guardians Association in one of the secondary schools in the district of Massira, where important events in the novel take place. They asked for 40 copies for their reading club. Then I discovered that the distributor no longer had copies, so the publisher sent me the last 20 copies left over from the second edition. This happened before it was announced that the novel was longlisted for the prize. Today I am impatiently waiting for the Casablanca book fair and Dar al-Ain's copies to enter Morocco. New readers have begun to ask about the novel after the longlist announcement and they cannot find copies in Moroccan bookshops.
What is your next literary project after this novel?
I am busy with two literary projects both linked with Marrakech. One is an anthology of short stories called Marrakech Noir and I am working into the hours of the night to edit it for Akashic Books in America. It is a real challenge for me, because the tradition of crime stories isn't well-established in our Moroccan culture. So I had to make a great effort to convince literary figures of Marrakech to write dark stories. By the way, these writers are ready to write about the secrets of their city, about its dreams and scandals, but not about crimes. Maybe because the city is basically given over to scandals and its inhabitants never tire of re-hashing them because they adore tales. The second book focuses on the crumbling parts of Marrakech. I invited writers from Marrakech from different generations to examine their store of memories and bring things to mind, features of the city which we have lost in the past decades. Each of us chose something, maybe a cinema he first visited as a boy, a mosque, corner of the city, a café or a bar. A little garden now eaten by cement. A space special to him in childhood or youth. It is an attempt to recapture features of the city which we have lost or are slowly being eroded, even if merely through nostalgic remembrance.