Book Review: A descent into an abyss of darkness, dreams and forgotten pasts

Updated 01 August 2018

Book Review: A descent into an abyss of darkness, dreams and forgotten pasts

  • Originally written in French in 1990, The Hospital fell into oblivion until Bouanani’s death in 2011
  • Bouanani’s novel is a descent into an abyss of darkness, dreams, forgotten pasts, mythological anecdotes, religious fervor, and unknown illness

Ahmed Bouanani’s complex but provocative novel The Hospital does not serve the living but the dead. When not being treated, patients wander the halls, interact, and attempt to navigate the expanse of the hospital while Bouanani’s nameless narrator writes down all he sees. Eventually, the line between their realities and nightmares fade, and the hospital gate disappears, making it a prison they can never leave. 

Originally written in French in 1990, The Hospital fell into oblivion until Bouanani’s death in 2011. It was not until 2012, when his novel was reprinted in France and Morocco, that it received great acclaim. It was translated into English by Lara Vergnaud and published by New Directions Books in 2018. 

Bouanani’s novel is a descent into an abyss of darkness, dreams, forgotten pasts, mythological anecdotes, religious fervor, and unknown illness. When Bouanani’s narrator first walks into the hospital, he assumes that he must have been alive because he can still “smell the scents of a city” on his skin. 

The narrator meets porters, shopkeepers, and unemployed patients. He meets smugglers and thugs and “the rejects of inexplicable wars and an aborted nationalist resistance, farm boys without land or bread, left behind by chance like febrile castaways with a cargo of off-seasons and coarse languages.” Nevertheless, the patients come together in Wing C, donning their blue pajamas and feasting together for their last remaining days. 

Bouanani’s text overflows with descriptions of Morocco’s landscape and the depth of its history with clarity in a text riddled with vague and dreamlike characters and their delusions and stories that are indistinguishable as real memories or fantasized pasts. 

The characters are reminiscent of the marginalized, says translator Vergnaud, and the forgotten, “first by a colonial regime and later a bureaucratic and oppressive new state.”

Bouanani’s novel seems like a Kafkaesque novel at first, but it is layered with decades of insight into social and political changes. 


Archaeologists unveil possible shrine to Rome’s first king

Updated 21 February 2020

Archaeologists unveil possible shrine to Rome’s first king

  • Possible shrine to Romulus is found at the heart of Rome, on the site of the old Roman forum
  • The founder of Rome was abandoned by the banks of the river Tiber, before being nursed back to health by a she-wolf

ROME: Archaeologists said on Friday they had discovered an ancient cenotaph that almost certainly commemorated the legendary founder of Rome, Romulus, buried in the heart of the Italian capital.
The small chamber containing a simple sarcophagus and round stone block was originally found at the start of the last century beneath the Capitoline Hill inside the old Roman forum.
However, officials say the significance of the find has only just become clear following fresh excavations and new research.
Alfonsina Russo, the head of the Colosseum Archaeological Park, said the site probably dated back to the sixth century BC, and was located in the most ancient part of the city which was directly linked in historical texts to Rome’s first king.
“This area is highly symbolic. This surely cannot be Romulus’ tomb, but it is a place of memory, a cenotaph,” Russo told Reuters TV.
The shrine is buried beneath the entrance to the Curia, one of the meeting places for Roman senators which was subsequently converted into a church — a move that protected it from being dismantled for its stones as happened to other forum buildings.

The underground chamber was also located close to the “Lapis Niger,” an antique slab of marble that was venerated by Romans and covered a stone column that was dedicated to “the King” and appeared to curse anyone who thought to disturb it.
Russo said the Roman poet Horace and ancient Roman historian Marcus Terentius Varro had related that Romulus was buried behind the “rostra” — a tribune where speakers addressed the crowd in the forum. “The rostra are right here,” she said.
No body was found in the sarcophagus, which was made of volcanic tuff rock, but according to at least one legend, Romulus vanished into the sky following his death to become the God Quirinus, meaning that possibly he never had a tomb.
According to the myth, Romulus and his brother Remus, the sons of the god Mars, were abandoned by the banks of the river Tiber where a she-wolf found them and fed them with her milk.
The brothers are said to have founded Rome at the site in 753 BC and ended up fighting over who should be in charge. Romulus killed Remus.