“Journey to the End of Childhood” by Rachid Benzine: a young life in darkness



Journey through childhood

by Rachid Benzine

Threshold, 80 p., €13

Whether literary, theatrical, cinematographic or televisual, fiction has already taken up the burning subject of Islamist radicalization several times, as well as that of life in the ranks of Daesh. On the other hand, there are still few authors to have tackled the post-war period, with its share of topical questions on the conditions of detention and the possible repatriation to Europe of relatives of jihadists. Shedding light on this blind spot is one of the originalities of the new novel by Islamologist Rachid Benzine, already the author in 2016 of a fictional correspondence between a father and his daughter who went to fight in Iraq (Nour, why didn’t I see it coming? adapted for the theater in 2018).

→ LARGE FORMAT. Investigation of the little ghosts of Daesh

life in the camps

With Journey through childhood, the tempestuous teenager gives way to a child whose humor and tenderness often evoke Little Nicolas. Passionate about football and poetry, the young narrator ingenuously leads the reader into the thick darkness of a Middle East delivered to a violence he cannot understand. After death “as a martyr” of his father, he and his mother – soon remarried to several successive jihadists – “change location often”, from Rakka to Baghouz. They finally fail in Al-Hol, in northeastern Syria. In this camp under Kurdish control where thousands of other wives and children of jihadists are crammed.

Filth, tents with holes, smells of excrement, days spent queuing… Without misery, but with an obvious concern for documentary accuracy, the novel recreates life in the camps. He does not omit the bitter balance of power between the mothers who have remained faithful to the ideology of Daesh and the others. His love of words keeps the young hero on the side of life, but the surrounding darkness threatens dangerously to cover everything.

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