Having taken the momentous decision to learn to read and write when in his early twenties, Choukri joins a children's class at the local state school in Tangier. Here he leads a life of desperate poverty. In order to survive, he does a bit of everything; when not at school, he hangs out in cafés, drinking and smoking kif (it's cheaper than cigarettes!). On the days that he has a few coins in his pocket, he can afford a primitive doss house; otherwise he sleeps in mosques or on the street.
A rich kaleidoscope of lowlife characters befriends him: the café habitués (some of whom are intellectuals and educated men) help him with his Arabic and widen his horizons; the local prostitutes take him home and provide a modicum of shelter and human warmth.
On two occasions, he ends up in a mental hospital--the second time because he tries to kill a man who attempts to rape him. Another traumatic event is the long-drawn-out death of his mother, at which time Choukri returns to his village.
Throughout his trials and vicissitudes, two things shine through: Choukri's determination to use literacy to rise above the cruel hand fate has dealt him; and his compassion for the normally despised human beings who share this life of 'the lowest of the low'.
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