cover image The Sacred Night

The Sacred Night

Jelloun Ben Tahar, Tahar B. Jelloun. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $18.95 (178pp) ISBN 978-0-15-179150-7

Sequel to The Sandchild and winner of 1987's Prix Goncourt, Ben Jalloun's powerfully imagined, hallucinatory tale of Zahra, ``flower of flowers,'' fraudulently raised in contemporary Morocco as the boy Ahmed by a father ashamed of his brood of daughters, has affinities with the magic realism of Garcia Marquez, Rushdie and others. A victim of what is to her the hypocritical misogyny of Bedouin culture that betrays Islam while piously invoking it, Zahra/Ahmed is afforded rebirth as a beautiful woman by her father at the moment of his death. During his burial, a magnificent stranger riding on horseback--``the Sheikh''--spirits Zahra away, clothed in a bride's golden burnoose, starting her both joyous and tormented odyssey as a woman in a Moslem land. Suffering as both man and woman, Zahra transcends the confining sexism of her culture and reaches an understanding of others' anguish, aided by the blind ``Consul,'' whose lack of sight enables him to see beyond society's categories and appearances. Told in a declamatory, incisive style, Ben Jalloun's perplexing, poetic narrative challenges the reader to see and feel deeply. (July)