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We are shocked to learn of the passing of the novelist and short story writer Naima El Bezaz, at the age of 46, by her own hand. At first we could not believe it, though we knew of the debilitating depression she had battled with for years. The depression finally won. What a terrible and abrupt silencing of a courageous and talented literary voice. What suffering she went through as she struggled for years and years to stay true to her right to be critical, to break down social taboos that enforced a conservative environment for Muslim women, to write freely about her life, and her community, without self-censorship.
Naima El Bezaz was born in Meknes, Morocco, in 1974 and moved to The Netherlands with her family when she was four years old. She made her debut on the Dutch literary scene with the novel De weg naar het noorden [The Road to the North], 1995, which was a great success, its subject dealing with an unemployed Moroccan who emigrates to The Netherlands. It was awarded the Jenny Smelik Ibby Prize.
With her next two novels, Minnares van de duivel [The Devil's Mistress], 2002, and particularly De verstotene [The Outcast], 2006, whose protagonist is a Muslim woman trying to break free from a conservative environment, she began to receive many threats from conservative elements in the Dutch Muslim community, precisely because of the author's critical comments on social taboos, as well as passages describing sexual relationships.
Due to these threats Naima began to suffer from acute depression. She returned to the literary scene with her next novel Het gelukssyndroom [The Happiness Syndrome], 2008, a largely autobiographical novel that focused on her struggles with mental health and depression.
In the summer of 2009, Banipal 35's focus theme was Writing in Dutch, with Naima El Bezaz one of the featured authors. We published a chapter from her novel The Happiness Syndrome, translated into English by Susan Ridder. Victor Schiferli, of the Dutch Literature Foundation, edited the feature and introduced it. He wrote about the extraordinary circumstances which propelled Naima El Bezaz to write The Happiness Syndrome, saying:
". . . in Het glukssyndroom Naima El Bezaz describes the depression she suffered after threats from the Muslim world following an earlier novel in which she attempred to smash taboos. Those who posted calls on internet forums for her to be stoned, were sentenced only to community service, driving her deeper into depression, a depression from which she has only emerged with her new novel [The Happiness Syndrome], which includes a frank epilogue in response to her case."
In tribute to Naima El Bezaz, we make available the chapter from The Happiness Syndrome for everyone to read.
In 2010 her novel Vinexvrouwen (Women of the Vinex Neighbourhood), a merciless and humorous sketch about the customs and attitudes in a Vinex neighbourhood, a big new housing development, was published to great acclaim, selling 60,000 copies.
She leaves her husband and children. An indescribable loss.