The Sand Child

book by Tahar Ben Jelloun

translation by Alan Sheridan

annotation by Ghada Bedair

The Sand Child is a lyrical wonderland for all who are mesmerized, intrigued, and passionate about words. The Sand Child is truly a piece of poetic beauty each line taking the reader into that enchanted wonderland. With that said, I must admit to being one of those who deeply love language; I love the use of language so much that I find myself jotting down lines from books whose words are strung together like harmonic notes. I do love when prose becomes poetry and this book was not short on this in the least. While reading The Sand Child, I often became so lost in the fluidity and grace of the translated piece that I would have to go back several times and reread parts of the book to remind myself of the plot.

Being a native speaker of the Arabic language, I often have a critical eye on the fine details of the usage of the language the work is being translated into, in this case the translation was simply exquisite.

The story itself is simple:  a father, hopeless about having a son after fathering seven daughters, weaves a lie that his eighth daughter is a son. It shows the intense desperation and deception this father will go to hide that his eighth child is, in fact, a daughter. He masterminds a plan where he strings a perfectly played out lie which no one questions, and the daughter is raised as a son. Through twists and turns we see this confused child grow to adulthood and even marry; what we also see is the traumatic and bitter impact this lie has on her.

What I disliked about the story was the form of narration Ben Jelloun chose. It was a narrator who speaks to a doubtful audience. The narrator claims to have a journal that recounts the story in the voice of the traumatized daughter. This can get muddled and confusing–the shift in voice, with the sometimes overpowering language–and leaves the reader confused and somewhat frustrated. Although the book was incredibly strong in the execution of its translation and its slow unfolding of the child’s life, it was overpowered with clumsy narration.

I have a deep appreciation and respect for translated pieces–the task of taking on language, culture, and all of the small nuances of writing, being capable of crafting a believable tale is quite a feat that Alan Sheridan was successful in doing.

The book does not have a clear ending, the audience in the book eventually become narrators themselves describing what they believe happens to the daughter, some tragic and some happy, yet you don’t get that clear clean ending that some readers, like myself, crave. For some, the open-ended style of the tale is appealing and believable; for someone like myself who enjoys a clear conclusion to the adventure I felt a tad let down and yet hungry to try to concoct what I felt the ending would/should be, and, as any true writer, I did. I must say, my ending is a happy and beautiful one.


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