Amid the splendour of La Mamounia in Marrakesh, one of the world's most historic and beautiful hotels, Rachid O received the fourth annual Prix Littéraire de la Mamounia with Analphabètes (published in France by Editions Gallimard).
The award, which was given over the weekend, is worth MAD2000 (around £15,000), and goes to a novel written in French by a Moroccan. The award's aim is to ensure that francophone Moroccan literature, though read by relatively few people within the North Africa country itself, enjoys a place on the world stage. Analphabètes is the author's fifth novel, and it breaks a decade-long silence caused by writer's block; Rachid O's last book was Ce qui reste.
The 11-member international jury, chaired by the Casablanca-born novelist and critic Christine Orban and including the Francophile Douglas Kennedy and last year's winner Mohamed Nedali, described the work as "brave, sensitive, very beautiful and a page-turner". The writing is "stylish, full of passion and engaged all the senses."
Like each of Rachid O's novels, it deals with the conflicts of being gay and Muslim in what the author describes as "a schizophrenic society." It was chosen after "three hours of heavy discussion" and, possibly, something of a row, though (unlike the Man Booker) no one wished to stoke controversy by revealing the secrets of the jury room. It was, however, a majority decision and, once reached, it appeared there was no dissent among the judges.