Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail
The eldest daughter of General Oufkir, the King of Morocco's closest aide, Malika Oufkir was adopted by the king at age of five as a companion for his daughter. She spent most of her childhood and adolescence within the gilded walls of the palace, living an extraordinarily privileged yet secluded life.
Her world was shattered on August 16, 1972, when her father was executed for his part in an attempt to assassinate the King. Along with her mother and five siblings, Malika, then nineteen, was imprisoned in a penal colony. The Oufkir family spent the next fifteen years in prison, the last ten in solitary confinement, until they managed to dig a tunnel and escape. Their freedom ended five days later, however, when they were captured and returned to prison. In 1996, after twenty-four years of incarceration, the Oufkir family was finally granted permission to leave Morocco.
In Stolen Lives, Malika recounts her family's story with unflinching and heartrending honesty. She recalls their day-to-day struggle for survival in harsh conditions, being watched around the clock by prison guards, and communicating with her family solely through prison walls for more than a decade. She tells of raising her brothers and sisters, teaching them good manners and attempting to provide them with some semblance of a normal life. They celebrated Christmas and birthdays, saving up rations to make cakes and fashioning toys out of cardboard. Through it all, Malika managed to draw upon her sense of humor, which, she says, "allowed us to survive even-and most of all-at the worst moments."
In the Preface to Stolen Lives, co-author Michle Fitoussi recalls that, upon first meeting Malika, she asked herself, "How can anyone appear normal after such suffering? How can they live, laugh, love, how can they go on when they lost the best years of their life as a result of injustice?" The answers are found in this poignant and inspiring account of a family who endured with courage, determination, and dignity the cruel and unjust circumstances fate had in store for them.
- Malika, whose name means "Queen," considered herself a princess, although she wasn't one by birth. The world view she has in the beginning of the book obviously changes drastically as the story progresses. At what moment does her romantic vision of her life begin to break down?
- Adopted at the age of five by the King of Morocco, Malika came to regard him as a father figure. How does she reconcile the fact that this man who had taken her into his home is eventually responsible for the death of her father and the imprisonment of her family? What are her feelings towards her father? Does she blame him for her family's ordeal?
- The Oufkir family is forced to suffer many indignities and hardships in prison. Did these details give you a specific sense of what it is like to be in prison or did you, as the reader, still feel separated from their experiences?
- Malika and her family strive to keep some normalcy in their lives by celebrating birthdays and other special holidays while imprisoned. It is as though they were opting to create the best possible world for themselves instead of just opting for survival. What do we learn about them from these actions? What heroine from world literature does Malika most remind you of?
- Malika created The Story to entertain her family and to occupy their minds, fabricating the tale of a Russian prince to which she added new chapters each night for ten years. What did The Story come to mean to the family? Why was it so important to them?
- Malika wanted to grow up to be a film actress. What elements of her story seem the most cinematic, the ones that would translate the best to the big screen? Do you think that her desire to be an actress actually helped her through this ordeal?
- What part of the Oufkir family's story did you find the most harrowing? The most uplifting?
- Do you consider this book to be a memoir, an autobiography or a political story? Discuss what you learned about Morocco and the politics of the country.
- How does the relationship between Malika and her family change as their years in prison progress? How do they manage to help one another even when, for more than a decade, they are confined to solitary cells?
- What thoughts and feelings did you come away with after reading this book?
We want to know what you think of this book! Read the suggestions for writing a review below, then post your review on the Oprah's Book Club message board. Bookmark this page and check back here often to see if your review has been featured!
1. How did this book touch your life? Can you relate to it on any level? What do you believe is the message the author is trying to convey to the reader?
2. Describe the character development in Stolen Lives. How does Malika Oufkir use language and imagery to bring the characters to life?
3. In your opinion, is the book entertaining? Explain why or why not.
4. What did you learn from this book? Was it educational in any way?
5. In conclusion, summarize your reading experience with Stolen Lives. What grade would you give this novel?
6. If you enjoyed this book, what other books would you recommend to fellow readers?
Above all else, have a good time putting your thoughts and opinions down in print! The best reviews are those that you would like to listen to or would give a friend.