Farhi, Moris

Moris Farhi

Elected: 2001

Year of birth: 1935

Year of death: 2019

Musa Moris Farhi was a novelist and poet. He was Vice-President of International PEN from 2001 to his death in 2019.

Author of Obituary: Anthony Rudolf

Obituary : Musa Moris Farhi was universally loved. Many accounts testify to his multitudinous combination of qualities – time, compassion, generosity, wisdom, intelligence, gentleness, empathy. He was the most haptic person imaginable, a soft touch in every sense. Born into a Jewish family, whose first language was Ladino, he was haunted by the fate of his mother’s extended family, murdered in Auschwitz after deportation from Salonica. She was deeply damaged by her endless reflection on their fate. Musa’s educated concern for the marginalised and the dispossessed stemmed from this dark heritage. Following graduation, he decided to go abroad. One reason was his strong abreaction to the rise of nationalism and Islamism. Nor could he face a lifetime in the family textile business. Even so, he briefly studied textiles at Bradford Technical College. But he had set his heart on becoming an actor and managed to get into RADA, where he practised English diligently and took up fencing, weightlifting and folk-dancing. Later these would come in useful when he did stunt work between acting roles. After RADA, Musa had plans to start a theatre in Turkey, but authoritarianism and religiosity were getting worse. His rational, tolerant and supportive father advised him to stay in England, hoping less rationally that Musa would run the London end of the family business. But this was never going to happen. He had a realistic sense of his thespian talents and was only able to obtain small parts. ‘Resting’ most of the time, he washed dishes in restaurants and drove minicabs. Then, after years of perusing scripts, he had an epiphany and decided to become a television writer. This meant mastering written English, his third language. He sent out his own scripts and began receiving commissions. In the early 1970s, Musa became and remained deeply involved with the PEN Writers in Prison Committee. In 1975, he met his second wife, Nina. Musa had already published a thriller, The Pleasure of your Death (1972), commissioned on the strength of his TV play Menace: Crack-Up. The thriller was well received. At this point, Nina encouraged him to attempt serious literary fiction. He researched and wrote The Last of Days (1983), whose invented Warriors of Jihad predicted Al-Qaeda and Daesh. By now, Nina was very sick. Musa looked after her and wrote more novels: Journey through the Wilderness (1989), Children of the Rainbow (1999), Young Turk (2004) and A Designated Man (2009), dealing with revolution in Latin America and the destiny of Gypsies. In 2009 Nina died. A collection of his poetry was published in 2011. In late 2010, Musa met Elaine Freed, and they supported each other in his final years. He bore his physical pain stoically, always more concerned for others than himself. His final novel, a cri de coeur orchestrating all his concerns, was completed before he died.

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Fellows are nominated by peers and elected by our Council of writers – our governing Board. Being elected a Fellow of the RSL is a lifetime honour. This role gives them the opportunity to support other writers, readers and the future of literature. The RSL connects writers in the Fellowship to one another, and to a wider readership.