Tâleb

Tâleb
Fiction
, Gallimard, collection blanche
, 176 pages, 
2002

Son of Ismaël the lute maker of Kharâbât, Hâfiz grew in the bazaars of Peshawar where his family was able to rebuild its existence after the trauma of the exile from Kabul and a precarious life in a refugee camp. There, he lives with Uncle Kamal the smuggler, Aunt Faitana whose voice one day disappeared in the pleat of her dress, Abdur the doleful with his girlish manners and all the boys from the neighbourhood. Above all, there is Leylâ, the adored sister against whom he huddles up and who converts night into brightness.
Hâfiz’s journey bifurcates the day he enters the madrasa. During several years, he impregnates with the words of God, Who makes the earth fruitful. He falls in love with the Prophet and hears the call for Jihad which draws the faithful into the path of God and spares them the punishment of the grave. He then returns to Kabul, his city now subjugated by the Islamic order, as a Tâleb.

« Tâleb » was nominated for the Femina Price and the Medicis Price.



  What the press wrote about the book

« Tâleb is a fascinating and necessary novel. It is the brief biography of a child jostled and cheated by History. […] Sébastien Ortiz’s novel is a total success which discretely makes the most of all the nuances of a hot subject. The author never attempts to influence our judgment. He nevertheless triggers an essential meditation. »
Hugo Marsan, Le Monde des livres.

« For his debut in literature, Sébastien Ortiz has succeeded in writing a spellbinding book. Without raising the voice, he tells terrible things: the destruction of a culture, the indoctrination of souls. He does it by imposing with erudition the simplest logic, the logic of fanaticism, and his pen never shakes. It should be written : on the other side of the world from autofictions and other so-called provocations, Sébastien Ortiz has written the most iconoclast book of the literary season, that is to say : one of the best. »
Etienne de Montety, Figaro magazine.

« All this to say that Tâleb is a sort of oriental tale of our times, bewitching like a legend, heartrending like any destiny can be which, in the East more than anywhere else, cherishes the ineluctable.»
Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, Libération.

« Sébastien Ortiz forgives nothing. Following his character step after step, he turns his sentences like a journalist who would have turned into a poet, having understood this was the best way to convey the thickness of reality. By doing so, he signs an anonymous epic, the imaginary testimony of a dark reality. A heady story which combines erudition and desire to understand, talent for recounting and quest for humanity. This Tâleb is at the same time instructive and absorbing, sober and entrancing. »
Pascale Haubruge, Le Soir.

« Here, fiction makes it possible to penetrate the core of a system, to reveal its nightmarish beauty and irresistible coherence, to explore the mechanisms which structure its wild and paranoid perception of reality, to underline its flaws through which doubt sometimes insinuates itself by threatening its implacable logic. Sébastien Ortiz’s novel combines these qualities with an obvious command. »
Patrick de Sinéty, Valeurs actuelles.

« In a superb style and never intending to influence the judgment of his reader, Sébastien Ortiz describes from inside the itinerary of a young man in love with the absolute and transformed into a fanatic. An essential book to understand the events in Afghanistan. »
Le Figaro littéraire.

« The story of Hâfiz […] gives, under the new pen of Sébastien Ortiz, a dense, deep and useful book written in a style close to poetry, full of tenderness and revolt at the same time, which should not be missed. »
Joël Bajot, Le Quotidien.

« Mystery of a destiny to which the author gives all its human thickness and which he enlightens with an amazing subtlety. »
Bernard Loupias, Le Nouvel Observateur.

Extract
« Prologue
A few years ago, a British scholar came to our city. During two weeks, he has been roving through all the bazaars in search for Afghan musicians. He eventually found us in a tea house in Khyber Bazar filled with smoke where we were playing chess from the morning on. We met him the very evening in his hotel room. There, he made us listen to a tape recording of a piece of piano composed, he said, by a French musician from the 20th century which was supposed to illustrate the singing of a golden oriole. He asked us what we thought about this music. I watched Aref the tabla player, Sharif the singer and Amir from Herat, the robâb virtuoso. None of them knew what to respond and the silence came. And then the foreign scholar took out another tape from his luggage. The singing of a nightingale ascended and spread in all the corners of the room. My friends began to cry out from surprise and joy. Aref took his drums and improvised a tintâl upon the melody of the nightingale. Sharif’s voice, hollow first then clear as a rock crystal, joined the unexpected concert. We spent most of the night playing, my friends being as imaginative as they could to revive the trills of the nightingale. At dawn, when my comrades were still asleep, I explained to the British musicologist the love we nourish for the bird singings and especially for the singing of the nightingale, the bird of “the thousand stories” (hazar dastan) which is proudly brought in its cage to the classical music concerts, the combined symphony of its singing and the music being considered as the climax of melodic delight. I said to him that each bird was singing the different names of God according to its species – “Ya Karim” for one , “Qader Allah” for another –, making their warbling a sort of dikr, a remembrance of God, the sound universe of nature constantly reasserting the permanency of the All-mighty.
It happened long ago that our poet Attâr, the Apothecary of Nishapur, imagined a famous poem in which the bird actually represents the spirit of man, captive of the illusions that the world puts under his eyes, bars of light separating him from the immutable truth. He wrote an everlasting tale in which a flock of birds hold a colloquium to designate their king. The hoopoe, already advanced in the search for introspection, convince them to go and look for the Simorg, the ultimate sovereign, endowed with perfection. The birds fly away for an odyssey which leads them to pass seven valleys. The first valley is the valley of the study (talab). The next one is the valley of love (‘ischc) and this one is immeasurable. The third on is knowledge (ma’rifat). The fourth one is the valley of independence (istignâ). The fifth one is the valley of unity (tauhîd). The sixth one the valley of astonishment (hairat). At least, the seventh valley is the valley of annihilation (fanâ), which represents the last impassable stage.
After their quest is over, the thirty (si) birds (morg) which managed to pass all the valleys discover with amazement that the Simorg they so ardently pursued is nothing but themselves, that they are one with It.
The young man whose story will be told hereafter will have to cross some valleys as well. He is an Afghan, which means he has already lost. There are indeed many misfortunes in this world, but none equals the calamity of being an Afghan. Some people even say that Good and Evil play the destiny of Afghanistan at knucklebones. There is no doubt in this case that Hâfiz – this is his name – is seated on top of one of those, rolled in every direction by events which exceed him. For this reason, because he is neither good nor bad but was thrown into the world to be subjected to the madness of men, compassion should be offered to him without conditions. »
© Gallimard, 2002

Covers of the translations into foreign languages: Dutch, Portuguese, Greek.