Tahar Ben Jelloun’s By Fire, the first fictional account published on the Arab Spring, reimagines the true-life self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, an event that has been credited with setting off the Tunisian revolt. The novella depicts the days leading up to Bouazizi’s self-immolation. Ben Jelloun’s deliberate ambiguity about the location of the story, set in an unnamed Islamic country, allows the reader to imagine the experiences and frustrations of other young men who have endured physical violence and persecution in places beyond Tunisia. The tale begins and ends in fire, and the imagery of burning frames the political accounts in The Spark, Ben Jelloun’s nonfiction writings on the Tunisian events that provide insight into the despotic regimes that drove Bouazizi to such despair. Rita S. Nezami’s elegant translations and critical introduction provide the reader with multiple strategies for approaching these potent texts.
"Gracefully translated, with an illuminating and exhaustive introduction by Rita S. Nezami, By Fire is a work of imaginative empathy and real compassion. Ben Jelloun, for his part, trusts in the power of literature to enflesh a symbol, lend voice to silent masses, and get to the heart of a human drama more powerfully than any news report might." —World Literature Today