Hassouna Mosbahi

Hassouna Mosbahi was born in 1950 to a Bedouin family in the back country around Kirwan. As a child he already wanted to write, to »fly to the place where the world has the colour of Spring«. His first stories were in the tradition of folk storytelling. He won the Tunisian Broadcasting Prize for them in 1968. He spent a long time studying abroad, in Paris, Madrid, London and, in 1985, in Munich, where he lived and worked as a journalist, literary critic and freelance writer until 2004.

In 1989 his stories were published for the first time in German in »So heiß, so kalt, so hart« (tr. So Hot, So Cold, So Hard). The title piece, about illegal African immigrants in Europe, was the inspiration for Kerstin Specht’s 2005 stage play »Zeit der Schildkröten« (tr: The Time of the Tortoises), which premièred in the same year at the Ruhrfestspiele. In 1996 the collection »Der grüne Esel« (tr: The Green Donkey) was published, the stories of which follow the oral storytelling tradition. With his simple and haunting prose, Mosbahi captures faces, scenes and landscapes from his childhood and transforms them into speaking images: »Two things have always fascinated me: the rhythm of the Koran, which I learned by heart without understanding the meaning of the verses, and the storyteller’s freedom. He was the only one who could talk about taboo subjects like women and love. The villagers hung on his every word when they gathered around the fireplace and the teapot.« His novel »Rückkehr nach Tarschisch« (2000, tr: Return to Tarshish – Tarshish is the old name for Tunisia) is also about the desire to immerse oneself in a bygone world, and reflects difficult situation of Arabic intellectuals. After ten years, a native-born nomad returns to his home from exile to find an atmosphere of fear and terror which is being exacerbated by Islamic fundamentalists. Mosbahi conjures fragments of North African history and its present in poetic images: dream narratives follow political reflections, childhood memories are interwoven with descriptions of Tunisian reality. For his novel about his generation’s disappointed hopes Mosbahi was awarded the Toucan Prize of the City of Munich in 2000. His novel »Adieu Rosalie« was published in German in 2004, and is about a displaced person’s fears, which are related in projections, memories and dreams. That year Mosbahi returned to his home country, where he most recently published »Münchner Tagebuch 2001-2004« (tr: Munich Diary 2001-2004). Mosbahi has also made a name for himself as a poet, literary critic, travel writer and translator into Arabic (Henri Michaux, René Char, Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet). In Tunisia in 2010 his biography of Saint Augustine – the very first in Arabic – will be published.