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on 19 July 2004
Sadly this is one of the most gripping books I have read this year. Malika tells the story of not only her life, but her family's in such detail that it has a huge affect on the reader.
Milika was taken from her parents at an early age and spent her childhood within the palace, raised more or less as a princess. Although she enjoyed this 'experience' she deeply missed her family, especially her mother whom she longed to live with once again. The Oufkir family were reunited but their future was unimaginable.
As a result of certain events, the family were persecuted for 20 years for their father's actions. It is difficult to comprehend who could actually treat people, especially children, in such a way. There are life experiences in this book that the reader simply cannot forget. This is a book that should be read by everyone who appreciates other peoples shocking experiences.
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on 18 April 2002
While I agree with the reviewer that the writing and editing could have been better, I myself was utterly fascinated by this story and did not want to stop reading each evening when I had to. True, the faithful family friends are not mentioned much. However, the author's recall after 20 years is astonishing. The fact that she can get lost just walking around the block due to the disorientation caused by 20 years of imprisonment might shed some light on her sometimes disjointed writing style. I highly recommend this book. I have been reading a lot of prisoners' accounts from around the world, and this is one of the best.
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on 21 September 2001
A heart-wrenching story of a family that were forced into a life of debauchery, deprivation and subjected to the most shocking and atrocious conditions - yet through it all, their love for each kept their spirits and hopes alive. A tragic human story that takes you on a journey that could only live in your imagination - yet this was the Oufkirs reality for 20 years. This story is a true testament to the human spirit. I hope with all my heart that the Oufkir's can now find freedom from within themselves.
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on 12 May 2008
Meet the Oufkir family. This is the printed condensation of their amazing survival.

Malika Oufikir, aided by writer Michele Fitoussi, recounts the plunge from the heights of an extremely privileged, if secluded, life, mostly lived at the Royal Moroccan court, and a life which later landed herself and her family into gaol, in 1972. A drastic change for everybody -but "drastic" is almost a diminishing adjective for what they went through-, including the two family retainers who had volunteered to share their fate. This was the result of a failed military coup against King Hassan II, led by Malika's father, General Oufkir, who was shot immediately after. Wife Fatima and their six children, aged between 19 (Malika) and 3 and a half (Abdellatif) were sent to prison. Deprivations, humiliations, isolation -even among themselves, they were not allowed to see each other for many years- lack of hygiene, food, water, medicines and contending their space with various rodents, cockroaches, scorpions, in the chilling cold or the most stifling heat, inability to see the light -they were kept in almost total darkness-. Up until the day when, 15 years later, with the resilience of the totally desperate, some of them managed to escape, Malika included. The tale of their evasion is chilling from beginning to end. But it also led to the liberation of the others left behind. Nobody could believe that the Oufkir children had reemerged from nothingness, but they managed to alert the relevant authorities, international press and word went out. They were all subsequently moved to a different location where they were still imprisoned but at least with more dignity -if one may use this term in the circumstances-. This went on for another 4 years. And then... freedom finally knocked at their door. Almost twenty years had gone by.

Forget for a minute about politics, religions, different countries, traditions, beliefs. Sufferings do not bear different classifications depending on whom we are, what we do. To suffer is to suffer, anywhere on this planet, and no one is immune. But. To pay up in such dramatic way for something beyond your control is just inhuman. Malika's voice, plain yet effective, summarizes details which induce cringing sensations.

Some reviewers comment on Malika's self-centeredness, sensing a certain degree of superiority, no doubt deriving, in my opinion, from the imprint of her privileged upbringing, which might have added a somewhat unsympathetic nuance to the story. Others remark that there are inconsistencies. It is true in some instances. From a personal point of view, I myself never quite understood why Malika was adopted into the royal family. It could be Moroccan customs or traditions of which I am not aware, but it was never really explained.
But. Never mind. Let's face the facts, get to the gist. Prisoners for twenty years for something they didn't commit? Children raised into squalor and fear, without an ounce of dignity? Let us keep things into perspective and grant Malika and the others the deserved praise for enduring their adverse fate and unfathomable conditions, never letting go, organizing their great escape against all odds. Without her, who dug and bled, bled and dug for months, relentlessly, this could not have happened, and none of us would have read this book.

A single, soaring voice raising above a twenty-year-long cry in the dark, reminding us that for one who manages to survive, many other faceless, nameless beings perish silently, in many different countries, for many different reasons, their weeping unheard, obliterated by enforced silence.
Read this book and count your blessings.
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This is a book that on its face held a lot of promise. Any story in which a mother and her children, as well as faithful family retainers, are unjustly imprisoned in squalid conditions for twenty years for an ostensible crime committed by the familial patriarch would certainly be of interest. Wrong! This is a tepid and disappointing book, poorly written, and most certainly, poorly edited. It is so filled with contradictions and inconsistencies, as to create somewhat of a credibility gap for the reader.
The story revolves around the Oufkir family, who was, at one time, a prominent, highly respected, and well known Moroccan family. Their story is told by Malika Oufkir, who is the eldest daughter of the late General Oufkir, who was executed in August 1972, immediately following an aborted attempt to assassinate King Hassan II of Morocco, for whom he was the Minister of Defense. General Oufkir's treasonous action was the catalyst for the tragic turn of events that were to engulf the family.
After the aborted coup, the General's immediate family was placed under house arrest and four months later, along with two loyal family retainers, who volunteered to share their fate, were whisked away to the first of several desert prisons that were to house them for the next fifteen years.
As Malika tells it, hers was initially almost a fairy tale story. Brought up in luxurious surroundings, she suffered early heartbreak when, at the age of five, she was separated from her family and "adopted" by then King Muhammad V, so as to be a live in playmate for the King's daughter. This adoption is never really explained, and one has no idea what her parents' thoughts were on this issue. Malika lived in the palace in the lap of luxury for many years. As a teenager, however, she elected to move back in with her biological family, where, there too, she continued to live a very privileged life, steeped in luxury and money.
After the Oufkirs' circumstances changed, theirs is truly a tragic story. There is little doubt that the conditions in their desert prisons were deplorable and squalid. With inadequate sanitation, insufficient food, no medical care, or educational provisions, the family was truly living a life of privation. Cutoff from the outside world, as they were, they were truly disenfranchised.
The escape by a number of them from their last desert prison, an escape which brought their plight to the consciousness of the public, was amazing. But for their escape, there is no doubt in my mind that they would still be languishing in a desert prison today, barely alive, if not already dead. I salute their ingenuity in making a desperate break for freedom.
The problem with the book lies in the telling of the story, which is so poorly told. Many things are left unexplained. No effort is made to ground the events, which led to their family's downfall, in a historical context. Whatever Malika said seems to have been what went into the final draft of this book, even if she contradicted herself a page or two later, which is the main problem with the book. There are so many inconsistencies with what Malika herself says, that the discerning reader is left to question much of what she represents as fact.
Malika comes across as somewhat of a self absorbed, vapid woman to whom fate dealt a harsh and unusually cruel hand. Her self absorption is most evident in that she barely acknowledges the sacrifice of the two faithful family retainers, who voluntarily shared their ignominious fate, nor does she discuss the impact that this had on them. It is also a little disconcerting that more does not come through about the perceptions the other family members had about this hellish experience. Their insight might have provided a little more balance and interest to the narrative. In the hands of a good writer and an excellent editor, this book might have withstood scrutiny and met expectations.
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on 17 April 2003
This book is on my top ten list of the very best biographies I have ever read (and I have a huge library of biographies). One really cannot put the book down. It is incredible how the Oufkir family survived their inhumane treatment at the hands of Moroccan "royalty"- such behaviour is contemptible beyond belief. I cannot understand the negativity from the review dated Sep 2001 - this is totally inaccurate - I believe that reviewer is in some way connected with the author or author's family and is suffering from "sour grapes", or alternatively they are from Morocco and cannot bear their country to be seen in such a bad light, hence trashing the book. Jan
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on 23 January 2005
truly this is a story that should, and must be told. No one could believe that this could happen in this era, but it did. How she survived with dignity and courage will endear you to this magnificent woman.
Also recommended: Nightmares Echo, A Child Called It
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on 3 July 2007
I feel compelled to agree with the reviewer from September 2001 who was accused of having connections with the Moroccan royal family (!) simply for pointing out that this book is littered with inconsistencies and contradictions.

The family suffered horribly and it is shocking to any decent thinking person that the so-called crimes of the father are visited on the children. This book could have been so good if it had only been edited with a discerning eye. I'm sure that after 20 years in prison, time sequences can become blurred, but from one paragraph to the next there are endless contradictions.

Only one example is where Malika describes how her sister played 'hot and cold' (the child's game) with officers who were trying to make her show them where the escape tunnel was. Two paragraphs later, they remove her blindfold! Or she says that under house arrest they retired into themselves and only occasionally bumped into each other about the house. Then she contradicts herself by saying they each spent all day, every day, virtually from dawn till dusk together in the garden. That's only two examples. Some inconsistencies are trivial but they make it hard to get into the account.

The book is also very 'me' focussed. I had completely forgotten two retainers went to prison with them until near the very end of the book, when I was shocked to find them once again mentioned in the passing (one lady took a beating from guards for the escapees, hence the mention). I barely got to know the rest of Malika's family (even her mother, strongly characterised in the pre-prison period, fades into the background). Her youngest brother was only a toddler when he went in. Their stories are so tragic, yet we learn relatively little about the others. Malika really does come across as very self absorbed. I suppose she is a product of her upbringing, from a society and a social stratum I don't really understand and am unfamiliar with - but I admit it sits chill with me.

I find the forgetfulness of the two retainers who chose to suffer with them really offensive. I also found the comparison to concentration camps very upsetting (she says her lawyer understood what they had been through as he lost family members in concentration camps). I know they suffered cruelly and were horribly deprived (lack of food, awful sanitation, no medical help, no freedom, loss of identity, years they will never get back and more). That is hellish, please don't get me wrong, but this comparison to concentration camps is simply wrong. Try visiting the preserved Auschwitz camp and then you will see hell on earth.
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on 3 December 2015
i am in love with this book!!!
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on 17 April 2001
I would highly highly recommend this book. After reading it, go hug a loved one!
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