Jun 01

Stolen Lives – Twenty Years in a Desert Jail

Stolen Lives – Twenty Years in a Desert Jail

a memoir by Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi


Autobiography / Biography / Memoir / Non- Fiction
First Published in 1999
Publisher: Hyperion
Oprah’s Book Club Selection

Click here to buy Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi (free delivery)

Book Cover Synopsis:

Malika Oufkir has led a split life. She spent her childhood days raised as a princess, but from the age of nineteen, she was imprisoned with her mother and siblings for the next 20 years.

Maika was General Oufkir’s eldest daughter. He was the closest aide of the King of Morocco, who adopted five-year-old Malika and brought her up as his daughter’s companion. Malika grew up in privilege and luxury, in the shelter of the court harem.

But on 16th August 1972, everything changed. General Oufkir was executed for attempting to assassinate the king. Malika, her mother, her five siblings, and two loyal friends were immediately arrested and imprisoned.

After being locked up for fifteen years, the last ten of which they were placed in solitary cells, the Oufkirs dug their way out of the prison using their bare hands, and made a courageous escape.

After 5 terrifying days of freedom, they were recaptured and eventually put under house arrest for another five years.

In 1996, at the age of 43, Malika was finally free to leave Morocco and begin her new life of freedom.

Stolen Lives is a shocking true story of resilience in the face of extreme hardship. A tremendously touching account of bravery and perseverance An example of how humor can exist even in the darkest of places. It is difficult to comprehend that it could have happened in our own times.

My Book Review:

You must read this book. As the last paragraph of the book’s synopsis says, ‘it is difficult to comprehend that it could have happened in our own times.’ Malika’s story is almost like a fairytale, except in fairytales, we often skip the horrible bits and drive through to the happy ending. It’s dispicable that King Hassan II, in our day and age could have imprisoned the innocent family of his attempted assassin,  the youngest of which was 3 years old, for what amounted to 20 years. It’s completely shocking, yet this happened. And is still happening to others now, I’m sure, in various parts of the world.

In all, Malika, her mother, Malika’s 3 sisters and 2 brothers, along with 2 women who came with the family out of loyalty (a commitment which is extraordinary and admirable to me) were locked up for an unknown indefinite amount of time. They were the ‘disappeared’. And it just got worse at every step along the way. They were truly being punished for their father’s sins. Every time they there was some semblance of  comfort in their lives, it was taken away from them. They never knew where they were being moved, were extremely malnourished, and what’s most heartbreaking is that the family was separated from each other, blocked by cell walls for 10 years.

But out of this horrifying life story comes moving human stories. Whilst locked in separate cells, they constructed an amplifier out of wire and radio parts which they pushed through small holes in the walls to communicate with each other. Through this hidden device, what sustained them was a story that Malika made up. A story that she kept going for 10 years. They also survived on humour. The Story, humour and looking out for each other and i guess sheer survival instincts kept them all alive.

None of them knew how long they would be imprisoned, when this torture would end – maybe, maybe, this is what gave them hope, that King Hassan might one day pardon them. However, I think, this lack of knowledge of a future caused what Malika calls ‘the night of the long knives’, a night of true despair, where a mass suicide could very well have taken place had they been successful.

Then comes their astonishing and terrifying escape. Failed, but magnificent because they managed to get their story out to the world and eventually secure their own freedom.

After 20 years outside time, obviously assimilating back into modern society would be hard, extremely hard. Abdellatif, who was imprisoned at only 3 years old, and 23 when he truly got to see the world, missed his childhood, teenage and early adult years. All he knew was prison. It was almost worse for the rest of the family who had lived a life of luxury in their past life, Malika herself as an adopted princess. This is what I didn’t understand when I read Malika’s follow-up autobiography Freedom. I read Stolen Lives and Freedom the wrong way round, and I had no idea what they truly had experienced. When you read ’20 years in prison’, 20 years is long, but its just a number until you go on the journey of Stolen Lives. As I said in my review of Freedom, an intellectual understanding of her circumstances is no where near an emotional understanding of what she went through.

Click here to buy Freedom by Malika Oufkir (free delivery)

Click here to read my Review of Freedom

I highly recommend this complex autobiography. It shows the ugly and vengeful side of human beings, but more so the strength and love that we are capable of. And it is because of these qualities that this story has a happy ending.

My admiration goes out to the 9 individuals who suffered through those 20 years, they truly deserve peace and happiness.

x Julie

Book Reviews -Reading Like Rabbits

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1 comment!

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