An excerpt from Mostafa Khalifa’s “The shell” featured in Asymptote
Below is an excerpt of the English translation of Mostafa Khafalifa’s novel “The shell” (2008), featured in Asymptote.
The English translation is by Elisabeth Jaquette. Spanish and Chinese translations are also available.
More is available here.
I wrote most of these diaries in the desert prison. But the word “wrote” isn’t quite accurate. There are neither pens nor paper to write on in the desert prison. This colossal structure—made up of Courtyard Zero, seven more courtyards, thirty-seven dormitories, new, unnumbered dormitories, cells in the fifth courtyard, and still more rooms—held more than ten thousand prisoners within its walls at one point. The concentration of university graduates in the prison was higher than anywhere else in the country, and although some prisoners spent more than twenty years there, they never saw paper or pen.
Mental writing is a technique developed by the Islamists. One of them would memorize more than ten thousand names, names of prisoners who had entered the desert prison, names of their families, the cities and villages they came from, dates they were arrested, their sentences, their fates…
When I decided to keep these diaries, I tried to train my mind. I transformed it into a cassette tape, on which I recorded everything I saw, and some of what I heard. Now, I am playing back some of what that tape contains.
Am I the same person I was thirteen years ago? Yes. And no. A small yes, a large no.
Yes—because I have opened up these diaries, and this time I am truly writing them down—some of them.
And no—because I cannot write and say everything. That would require an act of revelation, and revelation would require certain terms: objectivity, and the other side.