Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681373607
Pages: 172
Publication Date: January 7, 2020

The Simple Past

by Driss Chraïbi, introduction by Adam Shatz, translated from the French by Hugh A. Harter



The Simple Past came out in 1954, and both in France and its author’s native Morocco the book caused an explosion of fury. The protagonist, also known as Driss, comes from a Moroccan family of means, his father a self-made tea merchant, the most devout of Muslims, quick to be provoked and ready to lash out verbally or physically, continually bent on subduing his timid wife and many children to his iron and ever-righteous will. He is known, simply, as the Lord, and Driss, who is in high school, is in full revolt against both him and the French colonial authorities, for whom, as much as for his father, he is no one. Driss Chraïbi’s classic coming-of-age story is about colonialism, Islam, the subjection of women, and trying against the odds to find a voice of your own, to fight free.


[The Simple Past] is full of anger at the father character (referred to throughout as ‘Le Seigneur,’ that is, ‘The Lord’); at the treatment of women; at the teaching in Quranic schools; at the hypocrisy of Moroccan society; and so on. But there are also moments of tenderness for both the father and the mother, for books, for the joys of teenage life. There is a strong emphasis on the powerlessness of silence and fear—the mother is silent, the children are silent—and so, necessarily, on the power of the word. It’s a beautifully written novel, with moments of great lyricism.
—Laila Lalami

One of the most distinguished writers of his generation.
—Mustapha Hamil, Review of Middle East Studies