CHICAGO: Longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2017, and published in English for the first time in July this year, Yassin Adnan’s novel “Hot Maroc” is a glimpse into Marrakech, Morocco through the eyes Rahhal Laâouina, a university student desperate both for the degree that will allow his life to match the legend he has made of himself in his mind, and to make his father proud. While this contemporary story begins with Rahhal’s journey, it is also a tale of the generations since Morocco’s independence, university life, identity politics, protests, and the Internet. When Rahhal learns that he can control certain aspects of life using the latter, he becomes obsessed.
Rahhal, named after a martyr, sees his counterparts as animals and himself as a squirrel. It helps him make sense of the city around him. From Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech, where he is studying for a degree in Arabic language and literature from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Rahhal can put aside his upbringing in the Ain itti neighborhood outside the city walls. He can join the National Union of Students in Morocco and can drown himself in a narrative that he lives in dreams but that plays out quite differently in real life. When he finds himself managing the Atlas Cubs Cyber Café, Rahhal revels in hiding behind his anonymity in the virtual world and pursuing outcomes he could never imagine in real life.
With Morocco’s rich history as a backdrop and set against a modern-day distrust among Marrakech’s residents of secret police, politicians, and each other, Adnan creates a space where a person’s identity and past can mean everything in the real world and nothing on the Internet. Online, every opinion, if it garners enough attention, matters, and Rahhal does not let opportunity pass him by. Adnan’s main character can steer the narrative to fit his liking, as long as he is careful.
Adnan introduces every character with a wit and ease, their eccentricities and most intimate desires laid out on the page. Each personality is carefully crafted to create an extraordinary stage of characters. Translated into English by Alexander E. Elinson, Adnan’s novel highlights the Red City’s modern and ancient stories, its heroes and villains, its takers and givers, creating a seamless line between its inhabitants and their city, paying homage to Marrakech and its bustling streets, resolute residents, and cyber avenues.