CHICAGO: On the edge of Casablanca, Morocco, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the largest mosques on the African continent and the center of Youssef Fadel’s final book in his Morocco Series, “A Shimmering Red Fish Swims With Me.” Around what will become one of the grandest structures in the country are the lives of those who built the mosque and who housed it in their neighborhoods. Characters including Outhman, Farah, Kika, Khadjia, Habiba populate the pages of Fadel’s novel.
As Fadel guides the reader back 23 years, to the construction of the mosque and to an ill-fated love story, one gets the sense that this tale is one in which lives are shaped, not made. There is Outhman, whose father is constructing the mosque’s ceiling, who dreams of leaving the city to follow his brother to the Gulf, and Farah who comes from Azemmour to Casablanca to become a singer. It seems the world works to keep the two tragically apart. And with a host of characters around them, going through their own ordeals from financial strife to loveless relationships, they navigate through the old city by adapting the best they know how.
According to the author of the foreword and translator, Alexander Elinson, the novel revolves around Morocco’s King Hassan II and his commitment to building a grand mosque overlooking the Atlantic Ocean after being inspired by a verse of the Qur’an. Construction began in 1986 and was completed in 1993, with 30,000 laborers, 6,000 artisans and a minaret that stands 210 meters high. At a time of financial instability, it took great costs to build the mosque that now stands between the Port of Casablanca and the El-Hank Lighthouse.
Fadel writes of a centuries old city that moves forward with its residents’ complicated lives in a heavily patriarchal society and harsh middle-class living, but also with love that blossoms from young hearts against a tumultuous but beautiful backdrop.
“A Shimmering Red Fish Swims With Me” was first published in 2016 by Dar Al-Adab before being translated into English by Alexander E. Elinson and published by Hoopoe in October 2019.