This Blinding Absence of Light is a masterpiece among novels, told with searing simplicity and the sparest of language (due credit to the translator, Linda Coverdale).
It tells one man’s story of twenty years in appalling conditions of deprivation, brutality, inhumanity, silence – “the silence of absence, the blinding absence of life”.
Based on facts, it takes this true story and transforms it into a powerful novel.
The story about the hellholes and the survivors – the living cadavers – is a moving description of both unlimited evil and the power of human spirit to survive.
Once you open Tahar Ben Jelloun’s book about this underground prison in the deserts of Morocco you will not emerge before you have explored it, with him, in the pure and lucid language that he employs and that acts like a steadfast candle in the darkness.
We admire the novel’s beauty and clarity of language, its formal restraint which gives it subtle power, its commitment to its terrible subject, its passionate evocation of the human soul and the will to survive.
Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novel is graphic and philosophical, intensely interior and fully political, a literary and metaphysical journey into an Islamic-based humanism that alone secures the tortured individual’s sanity and existence against an otherwise overwhelmingly meaningless suffering endured in the condition of a ‘blinding absence of light’.
This novel is important for many reasons. It is that marvellous modern invention – the trans-national and cross-cultural novel – composed by a writer with a keen instinct for the stories that absolutely must be told.
It is a story read against a continuing background of deprivation and inhumanity in today’s headlines.
All of us on the jury recognise that this is a book of another order, covering the widest range of human potential for good, evil and redemption. It reiterates, as only once in a while a book does, the true purpose of literature.