Najat El Hachmi - A Profile

Even Catalans who don't know her from Eve refer to her casually as 'Najat', such a household name has she become since 2008, when she won the Premi Ramon Llull - the most prestigious and best-remunerated award available to Catalan-language fiction writers - for her novel 'L'últim patriarca'. Since then the novel has been translated into eight languages (the English edition will be out in March) and has aroused considerable interest in Hispanic literature faculties around Europe and the United States. The quality of this truely well-written novel - which ranges from the ironic and comic to the downright upsetting in its description of a Moroccan family's migration to a (never-named) Catalan provincial town – is the root cause of its success, but the fact that a work of such quality should have been written by a 28 year old woman who didn't move to Catalonia herself until she was eight years old, has proven to be a positive surprise factor. Najat's triumph came as less of a surprise to those of us who had read her first book, 'Jo també sóc catalana', a largely autobiographical work that had appeared four years earlier, providing proof enough that she was the real McCoy, a vocational author who would keep on keeping on. When 'L'últim patriarca' made its first big splash, El Hachmi was instantly pigeonholed as an exemplary 'integrated immigrant writer', a label she rejects as vehemently as if it were an accusation, maintaining as she does that she is an example of nothing or nobody except herself. Brought up a Muslim but one no longer, she will nonetheless have no truck with the endless media-prompted controversies over Catalonia's large Moroccan-born community, which more often than not are based on a biased and ill-informed take on Berber culture. Those who get the chance to hear her speak about both her writing and writing in general – she gives quite a few talks a year in Catalonia alone – could do a lot worse than take it: they will find a humorous, coherent and thoroughly original author who won't take bullshit for an answer.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, gener de 2010

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