Imagine what it would be like to spend a large portion of your life in prison during the prime years of your life. Imagine further that your imprisonment was not due to any wrongdoing on your own part. Add to this the fact that nearly 20 years of your life, from age 19 to 39, has been stolen away from you, rotting away in a small prison cell while thoughts of family, romance, and lost opportunities filled your mind each day.
This sounds like the makings of a dramatic motion picture. But for Malika Oufkir, this situation was a real, living nightmare that occurred from 1972 to 1994 as she and her mother and siblings spent more than 20 years of their lives behind bars or under house arrest. In this book, Stolen Lives, authors Michele Fitoussi and Malika Oufkir describe what it was like to live through this long ordeal as a political prisoner in the African nation of Morocco.
Basic Contents of This Book:
This 294- page hardcover book is divided into the following nine chapters:
Preface by Michele Fitoussi
1. My Beloved Mother
2. The Kings Palace, 1958- 1969
3. The Oufkir House, 1969- 1972
4. A Year in the Desert, December 25, 1972- November 8, 1973
5. The Walls of Tamattaght, November 8, 1973- February 26, 1977
6. Bir- Jdid Prison, February 26, 1977- April 19, 1987
7. Escaped Prisoners, April 19, 1987- April 24, 1987
8. Marrakesh, July 1, 1987- February 19, 1991
9. A Strange Kind of Freedom
About the Authors
Malika Oufkir was born in 1953, the eldest daughter of Genral Oufkir who served as a close aid to the king. Adopted by the king at a young age, Malika spent the first eighteen years of her life living as a member of the Moroccan royal family. She enjoyed special luxuries and privileges that most people can only imagine. In the first two chapters of this book, Malika discusses her early life, as a young child and later as a teenager, describing what it was like to grow up as a spoiled child of a monarch. She talks about her day to day life inside the palace; her education; and her early adolescence. In chapter three, the Oukkir House, Malika covers the next phase of her life- moving out of the palace and into a normal home. Malika admits that, while she dreamed of living like an ordinary person, she wasnt really sure exactly what that entailed. She had spent too many years being spoon- fed by servants and personal aides. She didnt really know what to do with her free time.
In 1972, something happened that would change Malika and her families lives forever. Her father, the army general and close friend of the reigning monarch, headed up a military coup against the government, and he lost. Chapter 3 ends with Malika talking about the events leading up to the coup and her vivid memories of her last conversation with her dad on the phone. She tried desperately to see him in person one last time, but with no success. He was executed shortly afterward for taking part in a military overthrow of the government.
Chapter 4 begins the long, grueling years spent as political prisoners. It started out simple enough, with Malika, her six siblings, and her mother being transported to spend a day with the mayor of a small city. Then, they were driven to a prison camp where they would begin serving their sentence as prisoners.
Chapter 5 covers the brief stay in another prison, in Tamattaght. At this prison, the family was guarded by many of the same police and security that had once protected them when they were residents of the palace. Some of the security people were friendly, and some were not. But even those who were nice and didnt like what was going on still kept tight control over the prisoners. They knew that they had to follow orders, or else they could lose their own lives.
Upon leaving Tamattaght, there was still a glimmer of hope. The family was told they would be leaving and they held on to the possibility that they might be set free. Nothing could be further from the truth. They were actually being transferred to another prison that was even worse than the one at Tamattaght. It was Bir- Jdid Prison, and it would consume the next ten years of their lives. It was also here, in Bir- Jdid, that Malika and her brothers and sisters would successfully plan an escape. Digging a tunnel and laying out specific plans on what to do if and when they got off the prison grounds, Malika, Raouf, Abdellatif, and Maria squeezed themselves through the tunnel and made their way out of the prison area as quickly as their legs could carry them.
Chapter 7 covers only a five day period, with the four siblings scrambling around the countryside trying to get a ride into the city, and then going from place to place while in the city, hoping to find someone who would befriend them and help them gain asylum. News bulletins were displayed on television and on radio, explaining that there had been a prison escape and that Moroccos residents had better be on the lookout for them and help police catch the escapees. Finally, the law caught up with them at a hotel and they were arrested once again. Much to their surprise, though, many of the policemen treated them like heroes for managing to escape from the prison.
Chapters 8 and 9 cover the post- prison period for the Oufkir family. True, they were no longer in an actual prison cell. But they were still not completely free. They spent many more years under house arrest and under 24- hour surveillance. Phone calls were tapped, friends were interrogated by police before being allowed to visit, and every movement was watched and monitored from afar.
The book finally wraps up with Malika and her family finally being set free from house arrest. Each sibling took a different course, but they all left the country of Morocco. Malika herself witnessed her greatest wish come true when she took up residence in France and was married to Eric Bordreuil in the Fall of 1998. Her life, most of it spent in turmoil and agony, had finally achieved peace and happiness.
Stolen Lives is an eye- opening account of the Oufkir family and its 20+ year ordeal as political prisoners. The story is written by author Michele Fitoussi with literary contributions from Malika herself. The story is told through the eyes of Malika, who describes, sometimes in brutal detail, exactly what it was like to spend all these years of her life in prison having never committed any type of crime.
I can remember hearing about this event back in the early 1990s, when the family had made its escape. From what I recall, the news coverage wasnt all that interesting. The media made it sound like just another news story, not worthy of any significant amount of attention and not worth getting exciting over. Much of the reason for this indifference should be credited to the Moroccan royal family, who managed to downplay the imprisonment for over twenty years. While in prison, Malika and the rest of her family often wondered why there wasnt a greater public outrage, on a world- wide level. They were hopeful that the world would eventually know the injustice they were being served and would come to their rescue, either directly or by applying political pressure. This never occurred, mainly because the Moroccan ruling class successfully kept the press from finding out, even going so far as to make the world think that the entire Oufkir family had been killed in the early 1970s.
Its interesting to listen to Malika describe the horrifying years spent as a political prisoner. After living in such luxury for so long, she was now reduced to surviving on prison rations and living in filth. Roaches, mice, and other bugs and small creatures became close companions in prison, and sometimes even became part of the daily meals. There was very little food and drink to go around, so the siblings were often reduced to fighting for crumbs and were forced to eat insects to satisfy their cravings for food.
The Oufkirs were, understandably, furious at the royal family for placing them in prison to pay for the sins of their father. They still felt an attachment to Morocco. It was after all, their home country. But they were disgusted with the ruling class, the controlling way of life that was so commonplace in their country, and the lack of justice in the law. Influenced by France and the French language for many years, the family celebrated Christmas while in prison and longed to return to France one day (especially Malika). And even though they were raised as Muslims, the siblings rejected Islam while in prison and adopted Catholicism. They wanted no part of a religion that would allow such injustice to take place against its own people.
Malika speaks in personal ways throughout the book, describing how angry, sad, and frustrated she and her siblings felt each day. She talks about the feeling of hopelessness that often consumed her, wondering if she would ever experience love, have a family, and become a Hollywood actress like she had always dreamed. Her siblings felt the same way, but they entered the prison at a younger age so they had a completely different perspective on things. Her brother Raouf often fantasized about sex, imagining himself running free down the streets of a large city and having wild, uncontrollable sex with every woman in site (remember- these people spent more than 20 years in prison without any chance to have sex!). Other siblings, like Abdellatif, had never really known anything besides imprisonment and regarded it as a way of life. Once the escape was complete, Abdellatif (who was over 20 years old now) saw a television set for the first time and was fascinated beyond belief at this screen that showed moving images.
The best part of Stolen Lives is the seventh and eighth chapters of the book, when the family is planning its escape from prison. This is where the suspense finally heats up as four of the brothers and sisters (the mother and two others are left behind) make their way out of the prison and head into the city desperately searching for someone to help them. This part of the book holds your interest more than any other. You read about the plans that Malika and Raouf drew up, which began with the two pretending to be a married couple in need of a ride into the city so that Malika can get to a hospital. They spend the next few days running all over the place, from foreign embassies to the homes of old friends, looking for someone who will help them get out of the country.
Author Michele Fitoussi covers the before prison era, the prison years, and some brief information on the post- prison years. The time in prison receives the most coverage in this book, followed by the years leading up to the prison sentence. But the years following the release from house arrest are not given much coverage at all. This is one of the weakest parts of Stolen Lives. All of a sudden, the family is set free, everyone has escaped the country, and Malika meets the man of her dreams and gets married. All of these events are covered on a few pages, as the book comes to a sudden, crashing halt. There is very little talk about how Malika meets this man, what she did about her aspiring acting career, or anything else. It ends without going into any detail.
Another thing I didnt like very much about this book was Fitoussis writing. Since this book reads like a work of fiction, I was expecting more information on the individuals involved. I wanted to read some character development, so to speak. I wanted to get to know each member of the family on a personal level. The only person who the reader gets to know personally is Malika. You get a decent amount of knowledge about the mother, too, but not really anyone else. And I was hoping for a little more suspense overall. The only time when the suspense really heats up is in chapter 7, when the escape is planned and executed. Fitoussi could have made this book better with some writing lessons from a well- known fiction suspense author.
All in all, Stolen Lives is a fairly good book to read. It is included in Oprah Winfreys book club, and it was listed on the New York Times best- seller list for many weeks after its release. I think the story could have been told better and more completely by a different author, but the book is still worth a look. Its compelling, scary, and ultimately emancipating. So many prime years of living were stolen from these young people in a desert jail. But through it all, they held together and were able to see justice finally triumph in the end. The resentment is still there, and likely will remain for the rest of their living days. But they survived and succeeded at escaping repression, finding freedom at last after more than 20 years as political prisoners.
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