We have the impression of starting a sentimental story when reading the first lines of Erase, the second novel by the Moroccan author Loubna Serraj. A narrator, Lamiss, writes letters full of lyricism to her great love. But behind the somewhat outdated nature of such correspondence, a first, more dramatic clue emerges: although numerous and regular, the missives are sent into nothingness. True love is out of reach, the relationship having been brutally interrupted. By what ? For what ? Can she ever start again? Reading will allow us to understand and gradually reconstruct the whole story.

The portrait of Lamiss is growing. A young city dweller, a French teacher in a high school, she likes to stimulate the critical thinking of her students through the discovery of literary works and the viewing of series or films. For the rest, Lamiss makes very few connections and hides his inner wounds behind an affable appearance. Everything is going very well, she claims, while also trying to persuade herself. And when the wife of his only friend, a work colleague, worries about his extreme pallor, Lamiss diverts the conversation: “I’m sure you’re exaggerating, Doha. I must have forgotten to put my foundation on the last few days. »

The plot builds little by little, between correspondence, narrative passages and dialogue sequences, the author using her same deliberately light style throughout the pages. A form that allows him to approach, without seeming to touch it, the subject of tension at the heart of his book: the love between two women. Because Lamiss’s passion is named Nidhalé, a photographer reporter whom she still loves desperately despite their breakup, and whose destiny the second part of the book will retrace.

The courage to live freely

Airy writing and deep subject, such is the contrast which gives its particular flavor to this novel. A way of addressing, in a gentle way, the taboo represented by female homosexuality in Morocco. Without crudely taking sides with her protagonists, Loubna Serraj strives to show the unpredictability and sincerity of their love: “From the moment our eyes met, my world was turned upside down. No, it started to exist. (…) You were a woman, I was one too. »

On the other hand, it depicts the Moroccan bourgeoisie – the environment from which Nidhalé comes – radical and violent on this point, which rejects the very idea of ​​natural orientation or sincerity of feelings and limits itself to judging relationships between people of the same sex through the prisms of propriety, religion and illness. Thus, Nidhalé’s parents will seize the opportunity of an accident which leaves their daughter with amnesia to try to reinvent her past.

“The ease and speed with which everything fell into place are, for Aïcha and Wahid, proof that it is God’s will that has been fulfilled. Their daughter was returned to them so that they could accomplish what they had failed to do years before, so that they could right their mistake of letting her become what she had become, this being expensive but unfortunately incomplete, degenerate in his sexuality. They could cure her of this shameful illness, “dehomosexualize” her. Their wishes for redemption were heard. »

The author also shows in passing that the issue for those who advocate morality often turns out, as is the case here, above all a question of brand image. It is this social image of themselves that makes Nidhalé’s parents incapable of understanding or the slightest indulgence.

The title of the book, Erase, is thus ultimately understood on different levels. It is certainly about this strange orphan disease which increases Lamiss’s pallor to the point of transparency, but also about the exclusion of the two protagonists from the public space, about their dissolution if they want to be able to join the community. Ultimately, a question arises: can we ever live in a society where being ourselves implies precisely the renunciation of our deepest nature?

Winner of the Orange Book Prize in Africa 2021 with her first novel, Pourvu qu’il s’humor, which evoked the internal and hidden violence of certain marital relationships, Loubna Serraj confirms with Erase her interest in relational questions and their resonance in Life in society. Beyond the taboo of homosexuality, she questions the difficulty and the courage which consists of living freely, in the face of the weight of conventions, and here offers the general public the possibility of taking up these reflections in turn. .

First published in a Moroccan publishing house, Effacer has just been published in France and is therefore heading out to meet new readers. We bet that many will see this novel above all as a love story.