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Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail Paperback – Large Print, April 2, 2002
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At the age of 5, Malika Oufkir, eldest daughter of General Oufkir, was adopted by King Muhammad V of Morocco and sent to live in the palace as part of the royal court. There she led a life of unimaginable privilege and luxury alongside the king's own daughter. King Hassan II ascended the throne following Muhammad V's death, and in 1972 General Oufkir was found guilty of treason after staging a coup against the new regime, and was summarily executed. Immediately afterward, Malika, her mother, and her five siblings were arrested and imprisoned, despite having no prior knowledge of the coup attempt.
They were first held in an abandoned fort, where they ate moderately well and were allowed to keep some of their fine clothing and books. Conditions steadily deteriorated, and the family was eventually transferred to a remote desert prison, where they suffered a decade of solitary confinement, torture, starvation, and the complete absence of sunlight. Oufkir's horrifying descriptions of the conditions are mesmerizing, particularly when contrasted with her earlier life in the royal court, and many graphic images will long haunt readers. Finally, teetering on the edge of madness and aware that they had been left to die, Oufkir and her siblings managed to tunnel out using their bare hands and teaspoons, only to be caught days later. Her account of their final flight to freedom makes for breathtaking reading. Stolen Lives is a remarkable book of unfathomable deprivation and the power of the human will to survive. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Brychta's suave and subtle Arabic lilt perfectly capture this first-person narration of a Moroccan family's harsh exile as punishment for the transgressions of its patriarch. After enjoying a fairy tale upbringing as the adopted daughter of King Muhammad V in his palace, Oufkir, along with her mother and siblings, was imprisoned in a succession of desert jails after her father engineered a failed coup against the king's heir, King Hassan II, in 1972. The Oufkirs were forced to endure 20 years of solitude, infested prison cells and the ever-worsening depravity of their captors. Oufkir worked with Fitoussi to produce a crisp memoir that bristles with imagery, perhaps owing to Oufkir's continual storytelling in jail to try to keep her family's misery temporarily at bay. The production is gracefully laced with haunting Middle Eastern airs, which, in conjunction with Brychta's voice, render a truly otherworldly feel. A central tension here is in the currency of a story that seems possible only in an age long gone. A chronicle of endurance and the aftereffects of a grim ordeal, this engaging recording inspires as just as much indignation as it does admiration. Based on the Talk Miramax hardcover (Forecasts, Jan. 29).
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The author's father, Gen. Muhammed Oufkir, was a high-ranking, wealthy, and widely-feared minister in the government of Morocco who had been convicted in France of masterminding a political murder in the "Ben Barka affair". Years later, in the event that preciptated the story in this book, Oufkir attempted to kill King Hassan II of Morocco in a coup that failed. For this crime he was subsequently murdered. (One would say "executed" except that it was without benefit of trial.) Had matters ended there, it would have been a tragedy for Oufkir's family, who were totally innocent of involvement in their father's affairs, but the events would have largely been forgotten outside of Morocco.
However, things did not end there. King Hassan II was apparently not satisfied with Oufkir's death, because he subsequently ordered Ofkir's entire innocent family -- wife, daughters, sons (including a 3-year old) -- to be rounded up and imprisoned (also without benefit of trial), along with a couple of supremely loyal family friends/staff who insisted on accompanying them to prison.
At first the imprisonment was physically bearable; but over time they were transferred to more and more squalid conditions in ever more remote locations. They were eventually forced to spend almost 20 years as prisoners, more than 10 of them totally incommunicado, in solitary confinement, in complete darkness, in rat-and vermin- infested cells, on a starvation diet, with no medical care, and under conditions that can only be described as mental and physical torture.
During all that time the prisoners, including the mother, the author (who entered prison as a teenager) and the others all the way down to her youngest brother (who entered at 3), aged, grew, and matured mentally and physically, even as their mental and physical health was slowly ruined to the point that they all became suicidal. Imagine what this must have been like for the youngest!
The story of their escape from these hopeless conditions via a tunnel, and their return from the near-death status of the "disappeareds" to international cause-celebre, is nothing short of miraculous. The escape of Papillon from Devil's Island pales by comparison. This book is totally absorbing and impossible to put down. You must read it.
It is a serious and important book, and there are too many good things to say about it in this short review. The writing is disciplined and controlled, in an angry but not vengeful voice.
To me the most profound theme is the evil inherent in the concentration of arbitary power in the hands of a despotic man who could commit such an atrocity. There is no legal or moral code left on Earth that visits punishment for the crimes of the father on the innocent wife, children, and friends as well, let alone punishment that is this terrible and extended.
Did I mention that the author had actually been the adopted daughter of the very same King Hassan II responsible for all of this?
All Moroccan's should be ashamed of their King Hassan II after this book. Let us hope it will help lead to a revolution in the governance of that beautiful country.
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