Tahar Ben Jelloun returns with his latest novel, “Honey and Bitterness” (Gallimard 2021), following the story of a middle-class Moroccan family torn apart by the suicide of their 16-year-old daughter after her rape. Based on actual events, “Honey and Bitterness” begins after Samia’s death as her parents, Murad and Malika, struggle to process the tragedy. Their marriage — which was arranged by their mothers — descends into loveless, mutual resentment as they cope with their pain, all the while uncovering the truth of Samia’s rape in her diary (a secret the teenager never revealed to her parents because of its taboo nature). While giving attention to the rape of minors, “Honey and Bitterness” also navigates several social themes, including government corruption, immigration, racism, arranged marriages, and the treatment of taboo in Moroccan society. Previously, Ben Jelloun addressed the same rampant issue of sexual assault against minors in his “Explaining Philosophy for Children” (2020), though “Honey and Bitterness” confronts the tragedy in a more direct way, according to a review in Independent Arabia. Exploring multiple perspectives — from Samia’s parents to her Samia’s own painful words in her diary — the novel looks to break the silence in a much-needed conversation in Morocco.
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