[(essay date December 1993) In the following essay, Fayad traces the influence of Argentinian author Jorge-Luis Borges in Ben Jelloun's L'Enfant de sable and argues that the novel's "blind troubadour" character is modelled after Borges.]
Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun's L'Enfant de sable is, if not a fantastic tale, at least a highly enigmatic novel.1 In it we are confronted with the confused and confusing identities of the hero/heroine, those of the storytellers, and the subsequent variety and ambiguity in endings given by those multiple storytellers. In certain parts of the novel one no longer knows whether the storyteller is reading from a diary or pretending that he is; sometimes we wonder whether the storyteller and the hero/heroine are one and the same (in the case of Fatouma particularly). Still, in spite of the intricacies of the novel, the storytellers share a common trait: they all seem to fit into the general Moroccan context of the story, they are part of the multi-faceted, multicolored but predictable crowd that gathers on the square in Marrakech. The only exception is the "Blind Troubadour" whom we encounter in chapters 17 and 18, towards the end of the novel. He seems different. He is different. The narrator refers to him as "ce visiteur venu d'un autre siècle, venu d'un pays lointain et presque inconnu" (185). His sudden appearance in the novel is surprising since he does not seem to have a logical reason for being there.
Logic certainly does not prevail in L'Enfant de sable, but, still, each storyteller is somewhat able to justify his presence and his ability to tell Ahmed-Zahra's story: the first one had the diary handed to him by Ahmed himself (12); the second storyteller, who stole the diary after Ahmed's death (70), was the brother of Ahmed's epileptic cousin and wife, Fatima; the three following storytellers are part of the audience and want to give their own version of the ending since the old storyteller has disappeared; the last storyteller might be the first one coming back after a long absence. This final storyteller claims that a woman gave him the diary of her uncle who was her aunt, "mon oncle qui était en fait ma tante" (207), in order to transmit this fantastic tale.
In their various accounts, these storytellers (Fatouma in particular) all make reference to the Moroccan society to which they belong. The blind troubadour, on the other hand, evades answering questions about his identity and the reason for his presence: "Vous allez sans doute me demander qui je suis, qui m'a envoyé et pourquoi je débarque ainsi dans votre histoire ... Vous avez raison. Je vais vous expliquer ... Non." (171). He gives hints, clues about himself, his life, his writings, clues which upon a closer look evince a stunning truth: the blind troubadour is indeed different, because he is not an author's creation; he is a real life character, the Argentine writer Jorge-Luis Borges, introduced into the novel by Ben Jelloun. It...