In the life and work of the Dutch writer Abdelkader Benali (1975) themes of travelling, migration and movement are closely connected. Benali has lived in Beirut, Rotterdam and Rome, and uses these and many other places as backdrops of his literary imaginings. During the Travelling and Translation event at UCL’s new Centre for Low Countries Studies, the author explains how traveling can set off ‘language machines’.
An accomplished long-distance runner, Benali is always on the move. Before he came to London, he ran the Marrakech half marathon in an hour and a half. Morocco also provided the scenery for his debut novel Wedding by the Sea (in Dutch: Bruiloft aan Zee (1997)), which launched him into the Dutch literary scene at the age of 21. In the novel Benali created alluring images of migrants returning to, what he calls, ‘their authentic place’.
Having moved from Morocco to the Netherlands himself at 4 years old, he argues that the impact of migration sharpened his sense of early memories. Whilst learning Dutch at his new school, he intuitively understood that grammar positioned him in a complex society: ‘I am; you are; he is… I soon realised that language is always about social relationships.’