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The Simple Past

The Simple Past

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

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January 2020 selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club.

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, who shares the author’s name, 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 finding, as his novel does, a voice that is as cutting and coruscating as it is original and free.

adam shatz

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681373607
Pages: 240
Publication Date:


Driss Chraïbi’s first novel, The Simple Past, was as important to Maghrebi writers as Camus’s The Stranger. It is a book that speaks with force, precision, and truth, reaching beyond the borders of Morocco to attain a universal significance. It stands in rebellion against backward traditions, against social and religious conformity, and against the father, their symbol. It is in rebellion against the French language, in which Driss would always write and which he superbly enriched.
—Tahar Ben Jelloun

A book of unforgettable intensity, sharpness, and ferocious critical intelligence, The Simple Past mingles French and Arabic and possesses an incantatory lyricism and a rhythm that are all its own. The music of storytelling is matched with a physicality and a nervous energy of expression that cries out with both sorrow and laughter.
—Pierre Assouline

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

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