Translated from the Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins
A haunting, poetic, semi-autobiographical evocation of a Tunisian childhood during the days of nationalist resistance against French colonial rule.
"Nasr’s hero in this multi-layered novel develops a deep humanity as he describes with almost mystical grace his tortured passage through life. Born in Dar al-Basha, a busy quarter of the old city of Tunis, the protagonist experiences a dreadful childhood of physical and psychological abuse and rejection. Finally he flees his tyrannical father and roams the world for 40 years, seeking escape from a life he could not understand and trying to come to terms with himself and the world. In the moving ending, he returns to his childhood home, generous spirited and purged of bitterness. Often impressionistic, Nasr’s writing is dominated by sensual imagery of colors, sounds and smells. Descriptions of the surrounding world frequently contrast with the hero’s inner turmoil and give a sense of continuity to balance his fragmented perception of it. Beneath the surface lies a stratum of Sufi thought, and below that a layer of anti-colonialism. The translation is excellent, and Hutchins maintains a consistent style that does justice to the Arabic original. This fine novel, Nasr’s first appearance in English, is a fine example of modern Arabic fiction from North Africa. Highly recommended."
"Return to Dar al-Basha is a semi-autobiographical novel describing a boy’s Tunisian childhood during the era of nationalistic resistance against French colonial rule. Taken from his mother and raised in his father’s home, physically abused and emotionally neglected, he grows up into a perpetual wanderer. Questioning his inability to set roots, he explores the streets of Tunis, recalls his childhood introduction to Islamic mysticism and Sufism, and braces himself to see his father again. An evocative, heartfelt tale, providing an unforgettably vivid impression of Tunisian life through a child’s eyes."
—The Midwest Book Review
Return to Dar al-Basha by the contemporary Tunisian author Hassan Nasr depicts the childhood of Murtada al-Shamikh and his return forty years later to his home in the medina or old city of Tunis. After being taken from his mother and raised in his father’s home where he was physically abused and emotionally marginalized, Murtada spends a life of anxiety wandering the world. His return is prompted by a mysterious visit from one of his father’s Sufi friends as he roams the desert in Mauritania. Murtada retraces his steps through the medina to his family’s house in anticipation of a possible reunion with his troubled father, vividly reliving sights, smells, and sounds from his childhood and evoking his childhood initiation into Islamic mysticism as he experiences a personal journey of the spirit across space and time.
Nasr succeeds in conjuring up a Tunisian boyhood not unlike his own and brings to life in a poetic, sensual narrative the spaces, light, colors, and life of Tunis some six decades ago. Murtada searches the streets of Tunis and his memories for the decisive mistake he feels he must have made-that has left him a perpetual wanderer until
he undergoes a cathartic nightmare sequence that leaves him shaken. Only then is he finally able to come to peace with his past and with himself. In William M. Hutchins’ lucid translation, the novel serves as an evocation and tribute to the historic city of Tunis the novel and meditates about the position of the past in a rapidly modernizing society.
View other books in this series
Author | Translator
Hassan Nasr was born in Tunis in 1937. He has published a number of novels and short stories. This novel was first published in 1994.
William Maynard Hutchins is the recipient of a 2005-2006 National Endowment of the Arts grant for literary translation and the principle translator of The Cairo Trilogy by the Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mafouz.
5 x 8, 184 pages, notes, glossary