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La Prisonniere topped the French bestseller lists for many weeks, selling well over 100,000 copies, but one's initial reaction is that something must have got lost in the translation. The style is dour, to say the least, and the opening chapters contain a catalogue of unnecessary family information that may have the reader nodding off. Curiously, though, as the pace of the action heats up, the deadness of the prose comes into its own. This is not a story that needs to be oversold and reads all the better for its minimalist delivery. The bare bones of the book are classic derring-do adventure, and Hollywood almost certainly has its eyes on the film rights--complete with American cast.
Malika Oufkir was born into a well-connected Moroccan family and when she was five years old she was chosen to be the special companion of Lalla Mina, King Muhammad V's daughter. Malika was taken away from her family and remained confined within the palace at Rabat for 14 years. She then had two years of vague normality before her father, General Oufkir, was implicated in an assassination attempt on Muhammad's successor, King Hassan II. The General was executed and Malika and the rest of her family were slung into a remote desert gaol where they remained for 15 years. Their release was only secured after they tunnelled their way out of the prison and remained at liberty for five days. The resulting furore after their recapture led to the family being transferred to house arrest and it was not until 1996 that the they were able to leave the country.
If the action drives the narrative, it is the clashes between Middle-Eastern and Western culture that are the most telling. Even in the 1960s, it was de rigueur for the King to have a harem full of concubines, and throughout the book one senses the tension between the materialistic, hedonistic indulgence of the ruling elite and their conformity to Muslim culture. Oufkir is a keen observer of her own injustices, but is rather slower on the uptake when it comes to the wider injustices of a despotic regime. --John Crace [via]