What to read on your Moroccan holiday.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love reading books set in the country I am visiting. While living in Morocco, I did my best to get my hands on as many Moroccan related books as possible. It was surprisingly easy! My school’s library was fairly well stocked and I was able to access a few more titles using my e-reader. Reading about Morocco definitely added to the vibrancy of the place. Just looking at the cover images of these books makes me want to head back there for a little more exploration.
Morocco of Old
1. The Spider’s House by Paul Bowles – Set during the Nationalist uprising in Fez during the last days of the French Protectorate. The story is told through the eyes of both an American expat and an illiterate Moroccan boy. Especially interesting to read as an American expat myself living in the French quarter of Marrakech.
2. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles – Full disclosure: I actually read this book years ago. I loved it until I got to a particularly disturbing part and it kind of went downhill from there. However, it’s such a classic that I would still recommend it. It Three American travelers seek the exotic in Northern Africa, but aren’t quite sure what to do when they find it.
3. A Life Full of Holes by Driss Ben Hamed Charade (Larbi Layachi) – This book was actually dictated to the tape recorder of Paul Bowels by the storyteller. The story is not quite autobiographical but closely resembles the life of Larbi. After being kicked out of his home at an early age, the subject goes on to seek survival through any means necessary. There’s sex, drugs, love, and a whole lot of injustice.
4. Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi – Whatever image you have of a harem in your head, replace it with the imagery of this book. Mernissi grew up in a harem in Fez in the 1940s and shares her memories of childhood and the women around her in this beautiful book.
5. The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelleum – I found this book to be confusing at times but very powerful. Faced with the realization that he will never have a son to pass his property to, a father of eight daughters decides to raise his youngest as a boy.
6. For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri – This title came highly recommended by my Moroccan teaching assistant. It tells the story of Choukri’s difficult early life living on the streets after having fled from the Rif due to drought and food shortages.
More Modern Titles
7. In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah – This book should really be read after The Caliph’s House, but I didn’t have access to that title at the time. In The Caliph’s House, Shah tells the story of moving to Morocco and settling into his new home. In Arabian Nights continues the story but through the angle of traditional Arabian storytelling.
8. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami – Strangers meet on a raft bound for Spain. This short collection of stories tells the backstory of how and why each person made the dangerous decision to flee Morocco and pursue hope.
9. Secret Son by Laila Lalami – A novel about the consequences of poverty and resentment. At age 19, Youssef discovers that the father he always believed was dead is actually alive, well, and very wealthy. Youssef forms a relationship with his father, only for it to crumble. It is clear that Youssef’s life will never be the same.
10. Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir – Previously banned in Morroco, Stolen Lives tells the plight of the Oufkir family who was imprisoned after their father’s failed coup attempt.
11. Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud – This is a good one. A mother moves to Marrakech in the 1970s with her two young daughters. Her pursuit of adventure and spiritualism draws the family into poverty and at times conflict. The story is based on the author’s own experience having lived in Morocco as a child. We watched the movie adaptation on the roof of our apartment building one warm night. It was gorgeous.
12. Lulu in Marrakech by Diane Johnson – This book is terrible. It rubbed me the wrong way more than once but since it’s set in Marrakech, here you go. Lulu is the stupidest undercover agent ever and I honestly kept rooting for her to fail. Let’s leave it at that.
I would love to hear if anyone has any other recommendations for Moroccan related books.