A tour de force: an utterly singular modern Moroccan classic
“When I walked through the large iron gate of the hospital, I must have still been alive…” So begins Ahmed Bouanani’s arresting, hallucinatory 1989 novel The Hospital, appearing for the first time in English translation. Based on Bouanani’s own experiences as a tuberculosis patient, the hospital begins to feel increasingly like a prison or a strange nightmare: the living resemble the dead; bureaucratic angels of death descend to direct traffic, claiming the lives of a motley cast of inmates one by one; childhood memories and fantasies of resurrection flash in and out of the narrator’s consciousness as the hospital transforms before his eyes into an eerie, metaphorical space. Somewhere along the way, the hospital’s iron gate disappears.
Like Sadegh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl, the works of Franz Kafka—or perhaps like Mann’s The Magic Mountain thrown into a meat-grinder—The Hospital is a nosedive into the realms of the imagination, in which a journey to nowhere in particular leads to the most shocking places.
About the Author
The filmmaker and writer Ahmed Bouanani (1938–2011) was born in Casablanca. When Bouanani was sixteen, during the final days of the colonial era, his father, a police officer, was assassinated—a tragedy that the artist returned to in his work for the rest of his life. Bouanani studied film at the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC) in Paris for three years before returning to Morocco and going on to direct several classics of North African cinema. Most of his movies had their genesis in poems, and he published three collections during his lifetime, as well as the novel The Hospital, also appearing in English for the first time with New Directions. Never keen to publish, Bouanani left behind a trove of additional manuscripts.
LARA VERGNAUD is an editor and literary translator who currently lives in Washington, D.C.
Anna Della Subin is the author of Not Dead But Sleeping (2017). Her work has also appeared in the London Review of Books, The New York Times, and The White Review, among other places. She is a contributing editor at Bidoun.
Bouanani sought to bring out the truth of his homeland even as that land itself, one way or another, rendered honest expression impossible; he had no end of impediments and no more than the narrowest way out. Yet with The Hospital he made it, demonstrating, again, how the best work can run any gantlet, even one lined with devils.
— John Domini
— Guy Gunaratne
The Hospital has attained cult status.