John Freeman

  • Moroccan Bound

    There is very little under the sun one can tell a Moroccan about sex if, as is likely, he or she has been exposed to an uncensored edition of The Thousand Nights and One Night. The fabled collection is full of forced coupling and pimps, swords used for erotic purposes, “kisses, bitings, huggings, twistings, great strokes of the zabb, variations, first, second, and third positions, and the rest.” It’s not just a carnal cornucopia; sex is the great nexus for jealousy, longing, and love. Sex, in these tales, is about power.

    For the past thirty years, Tahar Ben Jelloun has managed to bring such


    How boring does your hometown have to be for Siberia to tickle wanderlust? The narrator of To Siberia, a melancholy novel by Per Petterson, is an interesting test case. Growing up in a Danish village in the ’30s, she and her brother retreat from their grandfather’s drunken binges and their father’s palpable aura of failure into atlases and histories, where they see nothing but escape hatches. Jesper, the unnamed narrator’s daring older brother, dreams of Morocco. His sister, however, sets her sights on Siberia: “I wanted open skies . . . where it was easy to breathe and easy to see for long

  • Obscurity Now

    Poetry has been obscure as long as Vikings have worn helmets and emperors have worn nothing. This is not terribly surprising. Poetry is language refracted, metaphor tuned to an inner music. And ever since the nineteenth century, when the novel brought reading to the masses, most of us have preferred to read prose. Still, every few generations, a shiver of anxiety ripples through the literate world that poetry has become too obscure—that it has retreated to its palace yard, content to be fanned by courtesans and eunuchs. In rush the diplomats, armed with arguments and lances, determined to coax