Home Book Reviews Something Strange, Like Hunger review: savour Malika Moustadraf’s inventive stories

Something Strange, Like Hunger review: savour Malika Moustadraf’s inventive stories

by J. C. Greenway
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Something Strange, Like Hunger review
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It is the time of year again where thoughts turn to Women in Translation Month. While founder Maytal Radzinski has hinted at a new direction for the project, August is still a great excuse for packing your holiday reading with works by women writing in languages other than English! One of the most enjoyable discoveries I have made during the reading month has been Saqi Books and their catalogue from North Africa and the Middle East, which is how this Something Strange, Like Hunger review has found you. I have mentioned before how short stories have become my lifesavers when reading time is short and attention wanders. This collection would be another to have close by for when a window of reading time appears.

Malika Moustadraf was a writer from Casablanca who often wrote about the hidden details of women’s lives, often those at the margins of society. Her characters struggle with relations with boyfriends, husbands and fathers, and the patriarchal system that they prop up, but also with finding money, putting food on the table and getting by, never mind getting on. That might sound as if the stories will be miserable but far from it. There is an explosion of life onto the page as the women involved scheme, kick out and try to achieve some semblance of a victory, however small it may be.


I loved the gossipy sisters sharing good and bad news in this story. When one has to fess up to knowing about something the other was unaware of, it is almost violent:

Hada summoned all her strength, steeling herself to throw the second grenade in her sister’s face.

Even though what they are scheming over is more patriarchal bulls1t, you have to raise a smile at their eventual cunning.

Just Different

This story is written from a trans or perhaps intersex point of view. It is a plea for tolerance and understanding for anyone who does not fit into expectations of them:

I don’t know why they treat me this way: roughly, rudely, or sometimes with an indifference so extreme it borders on cruelty. In the street they look at me like I’m from another planet, even though the head on my shoulders can’t be so different from the rest of the heads around here.

Housefly, Head Lice and A Woman in Love, A Woman Defeated

And while, as translator Alice Guthrie notes, two of these stories ‘Housefly’ and ‘Head Lice’:

feature what are probably the first ever published literary depictions of cybers~x in Arabic

there is also a longing for a love that, however fleeting, however unlikely, matches the great loves of the songs and stories.

Love is like that, it always shows up without an appointment. Love is like death, like illness, always arriving when we least expect it… I feel cold.  I look up at the dark sky: it’s been abandoned by the stars. It’s going to rain for sure. I sneeze three times; I’m coming down with a cold. I don’t like winter, rainy season of red noses and muddy streets.

Malika Moustadraf

When you have read and enjoyed a collection of short stories by an author, it is natural to want to pick up others by them.  However, the story ‘Blood Feast’ contains something of the reasons as to why that won’t be possible. While there is more available in Arabic, English speaking readers will have to content themselves with this volume, the first of Moustadraf’s work to be translated. In the story, a character is suffering with kidney disease, caught between the unavailability of medical care and common superstitions, where ultimately survival or otherwise will all come down to money.

Moustadraf herself would suffer from the condition and her provocative writing and the things she wrote about likely factored into a reluctance on the authorities to either give her the treatment she needed or allow her to leave Morocco to seek it elsewhere. Malika Moustadraf died aged just 37. It is terrible to accept that there won’t be more forthcoming from such a perceptive and inventive writer, but maybe the best way to remember her is through the sharp and unique stories she left us with.

If you have enjoyed this Something Strange, Like Hunger review, the book is available from Saqi Books or from an independent bookshop near you via this affiliate link (UK only – we may receive a small commission if you use this!)
You can find all our Women in Translation posts tagged here.

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