The Arty Semite

Ami Bouganim’s Flavorful Tales From Fès

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

Born in Essaouira, Morocco, Ami Bouganim moved as a child with his family to Casablanca. There, he grew up on a street named after two Moroccan Jewish victims of the Nazis, Félix and Max Guedj, before relocating to Israel as a teenager.

His first book, from Paris’s Les éditions Jean-Claude Lattès, was 1981’s acclaimed “Tales from the Mellah,” stories which recount the end of the Jewish community in the Mellah, or Moroccan Jewish ghetto, of Mogador.

Bouganim has since produced a 2007 essay on Walter Benjamin from Les Éditions Albin Michel; a 2009 literary guide, “Tel-Aviv: City Without Respite,” from Les éditions Autrement; and for Les éditions du Nadir, under the auspices of the Alliance israélite universelle, some short guides to Hermann Cohen, Leo Strauss, Aharon David Gordon, and other Jewish thinkers. Now Bouganim returns to the Mellah, this time of Fès, with a story collection from Les Éditions Albin Michel, “Asher the Soothsayer: and other tales from Fès.”

“Asher the Soothsayer” is a wry, flavorful delight, clearly inspired by Isaac Babel’s village narratives. It’s published under the auspices of the Fonds Social Juif Unifié, a kind of francophone UJA, in a collection directed by the French author and radio producer Victor Malka, also of Moroccan Jewish origin. The title neatly puns on the French term for fairy tales, “contes de fées,” referring here instead to “contes de Fès.”

The narrator of “Asher the Soothsayer” claims the book’s stories come from David Bénaïm, a choleric Moroccan Jewish man now living in a southern suburb of Netanya. Speaking Judeo-Moroccan, Bénaïm informs the narrator, thirsty for stories about the Mellah, that actors were more abundant in the ghetto than authors: “We had 2000 years’ [of acting] experience, what with preachers, professional mourners, combatants, and exorcists.”

He finally produces a collection of tales, however, such as “Élie who Refused to Die,” a story about an irksome centenarian who, despite the humble squalor in which he lives, has grandiose pretensions. The head of a local burial society tries to placate Élie, who demands to be taken to Ouezzane, a pilgrimage site for Moroccan Jews who visit the tomb of Rabbi Amran Ben Diwan on the occasion of his hiloula, or birth/death anniversary.

In this, as in its other stories, “Asher the Soothsayer” entertains as it edifies.

Watch Ami Bouganim lecture in Paris in 2004 about his studies with the great Nechama Leibowitz and her contentious brother Yeshayahu here.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Morocco, Fès, Ami Bouganim

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.