A literary account and a novelist point of view on the dramatic events at the end of 2010 and 2011 in Tunisia, Tahar Ben Jelloun's By Fire doesn't add new interpretations of the historical account. The two essays translated from French are aimed to multiply the memory of the so-called Jasmine Revolution, that started from the self-immolation act by the young unemployed graduate Mohamed Bouazizi.
Unable to cope on his own with the injustices and corruption in the country, Bouazizi, harassed by the police for the only fault of trying to honestly gain his existence selling fruits from a cart in the market, decided to end his life in a symbolic way. By putting himself on fire he wanted to send a desperate message to the public. He died of his wounds a couple of days later, and his act made history, as president Ben Ali left the country following the revolt that spread all over the country.
The death of Bouazizi, as well as the change of the corrupt president didn't change on the long term the situation of the country, but at least opened a window for hope. Of course, hope it is not enough to bring bread on the table but this might encourage change, both individual and at the society level. Bouazizi didn't have any hope any more hence his desperate act. Ben Jelloun recognizes that one single voice it is not enough: '(...) isolated voices can never bring down dictators; it took many incidents, clashes with the police, glaring injustices and intolerable acts for the spark to finally ignite'. The 'Arab Spring' was a hope not necessarily leading to dramatic changes, but literary minds and writers in general are always tempted to dream.
However, the short essays are realistically written, more focused to describe facts and events than to make comments and projections. It offers important historical background and information not only for the novel reader, but also for anyone interested to have a short but comprehensive understanding on the 'Jasmine Revolution'.
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review