Interview with shortlisted author Mohammed Maazuz
Where were you when the shortlist was announced and what was your reaction?
I was on the road between Rabat and Casablanca when I received the news that my novel had reached the shortlist. At that moment I felt an added motivation to continue seriously with novel writing. The shortlist of the Prize has given me a sense of responsibility and obligation, in my creative practice, to produce work of quality which adds something new to the form. There should be a conscious re-framing of worldview, which serves contemporary human beings and brings them relief and refreshment aesthetically.
When did you begin writing What Sin Caused Her to Die? and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I began writing What Sin Caused Her to Die? immediately after the end of the sixteenth conference of the Arab Thought Foundation in Dubai in January 2017. I was one of the speakers at the conference. During the main and subsidiary events where intellectual, literary and media-related topics were discussed, I realised that the participants felt a profound psychological pain, symptomatic of the immense pain and deep, bleeding wound of Arabs as a whole, in a homeland which has almost lost its appearance and identity, having been overwhelmed by terrible internal conflict and divisions which threaten a possible hellish future. I felt that a dialogue with this pain and making sense of this wound could only happen through passionate and intimate reading, through philosophy and ideas of being.
During this conference, a multi-lingual female participant asked me about the possibility of achieving a different sense of freedom and a new mindset for a new generation of Arabs, unlike the damaged generation preceding it. I looked at her as she was talking and waving her hands. Her index fingers were tattooed with “passion, ardour”. I asked her about the meaning of the tattoo and she said that the reason could be philosophical and existential. At that moment I wondered whether the reason we have suffered these awful failures is because we have neglected philosophy, music and our sense of being.
I pondered this and left the conference, and thus came the spark of inspiration for writing What Sin Caused Her to Die?
Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?
It took a year, as I moved between Paris, New York, Rabat and my hometown of Oujda in the east of Morocco, on the border with Algeria.
Tell us about the symbolism of the main characters (Raheel, her husband Khalid and her parents Abdullah and Rasheel).
Raheel’s character symbolises the continuation of the resistance of ugliness and injustice through beauty, since poetry and music are open spaces where humans can find themselves and re-assert their humanity through their inner being, the source of love and goodness.
Abdullah, Raheel’s father, symbolises our need to look at things from a philosophical point of view and for wisdom, in order to return to logic and dialogue, and to hold onto justice, human rights and moderation.
Rasheel, Abdullah’s wife, symbolises the collapse of the Arab mind and being, when she collapses and decides to withdraw from a world she considers irredeemably sick. This is represented by her suicide and abandoning of her husband and daughter.
Khaled, Raheel’s ex-husband, symbolises the withdrawal of the Arab enlightened elite from the battle for freedom, justice, modernity and democracy. This elite has selfishly drawn back, seeking excuses which are unconvincing to justify its quest for benefits from those in power.
Would you describe it as an optimistic novel?
Despite all this, What Sin Caused Her to Die? is an optimistic novel, since it paints a picture of a world where love, toleration and brotherly feeling may exist, a world wide enough for all human beings, without wars and ugly deeds. It exists everywhere that philosophy, truth, beauty and goodness are found.
How have readers and critics received it?
Critics have praised it warmly. There was a book signing at the Casablanca International Book Fair immediately after its publication in 2018 and reviews in the Moroccan press. There was also a programme about it on the Moroccan cultural TV show Masharif. There were reviews in the Egyptian paper Akhbar al-Adab, the Emirati Al-Ittihad paper and the Jordanian online paper Hafriyyat.
What is your next literary project?
At the moment I am planning an allegorical, philosophical novel, which explores the maladies of human beings and the world, the terrifying destinies of a world undergoing alarming change, where people are gradually losing their humanity to non-human entities.