This is a book that on its face held a lot of promise. Any story in which a mother and her children, as well as faithful family retainers, are unjustly imprisoned in squalid conditions for twenty years for an ostensible crime committed by the familial patriarch would certainly be of interest. Wrong! This is a tepid and disappointing book, poorly written and, most certainly, poorly edited. It is so filled with contradictions and inconsistencies, as to create somewhat of a credibility gap for the reader.
The story revolves around the Oufkir family, who were, at one time, a prominent, highly respected, and well known Moroccan family. Their story is told by Malika Oufkir, who is the eldest daughter of the late General Oufkir, who was executed in August 1972, immediately following an aborted attempt to assassinate King Hassan II of Morocco, for whom he was the Minister of Defense. General's Oufkir's treasonous action was the catalyst for the tragic turn of events that were to engulf his family.
After the aborted coup, the General's immediate family was placed under house arrest and four months later, along with two loyal family retainers who volunteered to share their fate, were whisked away to the first of several desert prisons that were to house them for the next fifteen years.
As Malika tells it, hers was initially almost a fairy tale story. Brought up in luxurious surroundings, she suffered early heartbreak when, at the age of five, she was separated from her family and "adopted" by then King Muhammad V, so as to be a live in playmate for the King's daughter. This adoption is never really explained, and one has no idea what her parents' thoughts were on this issue. Malika lived in the Palace in the lap of luxury for many years. As a teenager, however, she moved back with her family, where, there too, she continued to live a very privileged life, steeped in luxury and money.
After the Oufkirs' circumstances changed, theirs is truly a tragic story. There is little doubt that the conditions in their desert prisons were deplorable and squalid. With inadequate sanitation, insufficient food, no medical care, or educational provisions, the family was truly living a life of privation. Cutoff from the outside world, as they were, they truly were disenfranchised.
Their escape from their last desert prison, an escape which brought their plight to the consciousness of the public, was amazing. But for their escape, there is no doubt in my mind that they would still be languishing in a desert prison today, barely alive, if not already dead. I salute their determination and ingenuity in making a desperate break for freedom.
The problem lies in the telling of the story, which is so poorly told. Many things are left unexplained. No effort is made to ground the events that led to their family's downfall in a historical context. Whatever Malika said seems to have been what went into the final draft of this book, even if she contradicted herself a page or two later, which is the main problem with the book. There are so many inconsistencies with what Malika herself says, that the discerning reader is left to question much of what she represents.
Malika comes across as a somewhat self-absorbed, vapid woman to whom fate dealt a harsh and unusually cruel hand. Her self-absorption is most evident in that she barely acknowledges the sacrifice of the two faithful family retainers, who voluntarily shared their fate, nor does she discuss the impact that this had on them. It is also a little disconcerting that more does not come through about the perceptions the other family members had about this hellish experience. Their insight might have provided a little more balance and interest to the narrative. In the hands of a good writer and excellent editor, this book might have withstood scrutiny and met expectations.
Sorry, Oprah, your book club selections are usually excellent. This one fails to make the grade.