Books on Morocco

Books

Morocco has inspired many books, beautiful coffee table design books, exotic travel writing, the unique stories of Mrabet & others that were translated by Paul Bowles, and is now producing a new generation of modern writers. Here is a selection of personal reviews of some of our favourites, which we regularly add to.

 

Morocco - Pierre Loti

Pierre Loti - Morocco

This is an account of Loti's month long trip in April/ May 1889 to Fez as part of a French Ambassadorial visit to the court of the Sultan of Morocco.
The book opens with their arrival in Tangier and their journey on horseback overland through the various 'tribal' areas to the Sultan's capital at Fez.   They set out from Tangier with all the pomp befitting the formal French delegation.  However once they leave  the comforts of Tangier, they discover a much different land.  There are no roads, only tracks traversed by mule and camel caravans, very few formal settlements, and a landscape much different from the ‘African’ one that Loti was expecting.  Indeed it was interesting to read the book during the same time period (April/May) that the actual trip took place as Loti goes into a lot of detail on the flora he sees.
Their group is accompanied by the Sultan’s Kaids and they get a local guard and are greeted by a display of horse riding (fantasia) as they cross each tribal border.  After a 10 day journey they reach the outskirts of Fez, where they must camp for the night before a formal entrance the next morning.  When the do enter the city Loti finds a strange place with expressionless people and a grim environment.  He finds lodging in the city away from the official delegation and uses this as a base to explore the city.  He soon discovers a different city, with the beautiful house interiors hidden from outside eyes, and the terrace world of the women that he sees from his rooftop. He also briefly passes the Jewish Mellah quarter which he declines to enter due to the decrepitness and smells that he can see on the inside.  
After about 2 weeks stay it is time for him to depart again for Tangier, this time with a brief stop Meknes where they find the large old royal quarters of Moulay Ismail mostly empty, and then on to Tangier and relative modernity.  An interesting book with some insight into pre-protectorate time in Morocco.  Loti clearly must have had the assistance of a permanent guide during his journey,  explaining the Moroccan customs, or translating the conversation he relates that the muleteers are having around the campfire, however no time does he mention this person.  This is a minor complaint and in any case still seems to be the norm with many travel writers.
Posted 13 May 2013

 

The Dream at the end of the World (Paul Bowles and the literary renegades in Tangier) - Michelle Green

Michele Green, The dream at the end of the world (Paul Bowles and the literary renegades in Tangier)

This book explores the life of Paul and Jane Bowles in Morocco, until Jane's death in 1973. It is a very revealing account of their lives together as well as with their various Moroccan companions. Their own complicated marriage is overshadowed somewhat by the manipulative relationships they both developed with their Moroccan lovers and the different demands by all sides is drawn very skillfully by Green.
Paul attempted to lead a quiet life, however they were very much part of the Tangier party set, and the Bowles' were in no way anonymous. Green is successful in portraying a good picture of the type of social whitle that took place in Tangier at the time, including detailing the rivalries between 2 clique leaders who attempted to control friendships and loyalties amongst the ex pat community who lived and holidayed in the city. Over time the Bowles became magnets for others to come to Tangiers, initially their own contemporaries and later the beat writers, who all paid homage to the couples. The book also gives an accouont of the highs and lows of both Paul and Jane's careers. Posted 02 March 2013

 

 

A Year in Marrakesh - Peter Mayne

Paul Bowles Midnight MasA Year in Marrakesh by Peter Mayne

The book opens with Englishman Mayne's arrival in Tangier, where he makes contact with a man in the souk. Mayne, dispite his best interntions, gets taken in by this faux guide, and ends up lodging with a "relative" of the man in Marrakech, where he finds himself the object of demands for money. This encourages Mayne to move to a small house in a medina neighbourhood where he lives the life of a local, going to the hammam, getting water fron the fountain and frequenting local cafes, all the while trying to write a novel. He befriends several locals, both foreign and Moroccan, and settles into the life, partaking of majoun, attending local parties,and searching for a house keeper who can cook.
As his money grows short, he moves to accomodation in the grounds of the home of one of his foreign friends and lives there happily. Even though this book was written over 60 years ago, when the French Protectorate was still in place, there are paralells with the Morocco of today in terms of customs, ways of doing things, and the reactions of local people to foreigners. A book to read before coming to Morocco. Posted 14 Febraury 2013

 

 

Midnight Mass and other stories - Paul Bowles

Paul Bowles Midnight Mass and other stories

Bowles is known for both his Morocco based novels and his support of Moroccan writers, but he was also a prolific producer of short stories.  The style, content, and subjects here are very similar to the writers (Mrabet & Larachi) that Bowles transcribed and translated, it makes you wonder who really influenced who.  The characters are usually poor Moroccans or rich foreigners, and the stories often have folkorish elements.  Bowles clearly had a excellent insight into the Moroccan psyche, even if some of this is not really appreciated by some current day modern Moroccans who find much of this writing embarressing, in how they see their country portrayed.  However this is a wonderful collection, and if you’ve never read Bowles short stories before, you’ve missed out.    You can also find a piece on Bowles' music over in the Fez News section. Posted 16 August 2012

 

 

Birdwatching Books for Morocco

Collins Bird Guide

Prion's A Birdwatcher's Guide to Morocco

For bird identification, the excellent Collins Bird Guide by K.Mullany, L.Svensson, D.Zettrstrom is the only book that you will need.  Although having a cover description as being 'a guide to the birds of Britain and Europe', the content and maps cover the ‘Western Palearctic’ and therefore includes Morocco, North Africa and parts of the Middle East.  So, unless you are lucky to spot some sub saharan African vagrants, you are likely to find that the Collins Guide alone will be sufficient.  Indeed the guide contains several birds that are specific to Morocco & N.Africa such as the Marsh Owl,Common Bulbul, House Bunting, Laughing Dove, and several Wheatears and Warblers.   Many of the important Moroccan bird watching sites such as Moulay Bousselham, the esturaries of the Souss and Massa rivers (oueds), and the lakes of the Middle Atlas are well known in the birding community, but if you are new to Morocco or intend travelling widely in the country, then Prion’s A Birdwatchers’ Guide to Morocco by P & F Bergier is a good companion to the Collins Guide.  It lists and gives directions to the main Moroccan bird sites, but be aware it is not an illustrated bird identification book.. Posted 17 July 2012
Also see our About Fez page for a short piece on birds in Fez Medina

 

 

A Palace in the Old Village - Tahar Ben Jelloun

A palace in teh old village Tahar Ben Jelloun

This is Ben Jelloun’s most recent book (in English translation).  A short novel it explores the psyche of a emigrant from a small rural berber village in the south of Morocco.   Mohammed has lived and worked in ‘La France’ since 1962 and has now reached retirement age and finds himself not knowing what to do next.  Seemingly a quiet introverted man, he had found the routine of the production line gave structure to his life, however he has now reached the end of his working life, without ever engaging with French society.  Slowly we see how his emotional attachment to his previous life and it’s values in rural Morocco, has resulted in a distance between him and his ‘French’ children, and his traditional approach towards his marriage means that he and his wife are not emotionally close.  An interesting exploration of emigration and displacement. Posted 18 June 2012

 

 

The Lemon - Mohammed Mrabet (trans Paul Bowles)

Mohammed Mrabet The Lemon

First published in 1969, the book tells the story of a 13 year old Abdelsalem  who, despite being a good student, falls out with a new a schoolteacher, and refuses to return to his studies, and as a result is told to leave home by his father.  He moves to the centre of Tangier where he initially finds work in a bar and then rents a room from a man from his old neighbourhood, who is now working at the Tangier docks.  This brings him in close contact with a world previously unknown to him, copious drinking, women, homosexuality, and foreigners.  He later starts to smoke hashish and this has an impact on his personality.  An interesting story of a boy’s forced change to adulthood and the psychological impact on him of the adaptions he feels he must make.  Any of Mrabet’s writing are worthwhile reading, but this is one of my favourites. Posted 06 June 2012

 

 

 

Samarkand - Amin Maalouf

Samarkand Amin Maalouf

The 18th Fes Festival of Scared Music starts in less than 2 weeks, and it’s theme this year is ‘Re-enchanting the World’ and is a tribute to the great Persian poet Omar al Khayyam.   Maalouf in an earlier book recreated the story of the fassi adventurer Al Wazzan (later Leo Africanus), and here he does something similar for Khayyam.  The book opens telling us that the only copy of Khayyam’s book the Rubaiyaat lies at the bottom of the Atlantic having gone down with the Titanic.  Eventually we are taken back to the 11th century times of Khayyam and his life and intrigues.  We find that he was not only a poet and philosopher, also being very knowledgeable in the sciences and astronomy as well as having a deep influence on the politics of the times.  Later through an the exploits of an American orientalist, who is obsessed with the Rubaiyaat, we go on a journey through the interesting political times of the late 19th & early 20th century Iran, as foreign powers vie to control the country, and many Iranians seek their own new political freedoms.  Another excellent historical novel from Maalouf. Posted 27 May 2012

 

 

Moorish Architecture in Andalusia - M.Barrucand & A.Bednorz (Taschen)

Moorish Architecture in Andalusia by M.Barrucand & A.Bednorz

Taschen have produced some very nice coffee table photo books of Morocco, including ‘Living in Morocco’ and ‘Moroccan Interiors’ and whereas these books fully serve their purpose of giving decoration and furnishing ideas to a western audience, neither provide a serious critique of Moroccan architecture.  The closest Taschen come to this is the excellent ‘Moorish Architecture’ produced in a hardback edition as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations.  The book explains the foundation of Al-Andalus in the early 8th century with an invasion of southern Spain by Moroccan Berbers in 710.  It follows how the architecture developed under various dynasties, often illustrating this with diagrams, such as one showing how Great Mosque in Cordoba was expanded over the generations.  It has nice photos of many Moorish buildings (Alcazar, Alhambra) and I particularly like the photographs of many different zellige (tile) designs.  We also see the mudejar style where the Christian Spaniards continued the Moorish design after the fall of Al-Andalus, and how styles crisscrossed the sea to Morocco. Indeed here in Fez, many of styles and and building skills, are very much alive, especially in the traditional buildings of the old medina, some of which, like Dar Aquas, have been converted into boutique guesthouses. Posted 20 May 2012

 

 

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits - Leila Lalami

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Leila Lalami

Diaspora writing, for obvious reasons, often focuses on the theme of emigration and Lalami’s first book is no different.  At the opening, we meet the main characters in a boat floating from Morocco towards their dream of a new life in Spain.  The stories of how they ended up in this position and what happened to them after the boat journey ended are told as the book progresses. All hope for a new, comfortable life in another country, but the reality of what happens to them is rather different. There is a frankness to the way Lalami addresses certain issues,  in one case showing the reaction of rich Moroccan parents to a daughter who is turning to religion, the difficult choices made by immigrant women and the impact of long term unemployment on well educated young Moroccans. Lalami also examines the uncomfortable truths about the underbelly of Moroccan society,  with  corrupt officials taking bribes, people blaming others for their wrong doings, while other characters are doing  everything they can, even if it is unjust, to protect their family. A book to read to get an insight into modern Moroccan society and the harsh realities of the impact of emigration. . Posted 10 May 2012

 

 

Morocco Design|Decor - Philippe Saharoff & Francesca Torre

Morocco Design Decor by Philippe Saharoff & Francesca Torre

A small coffee table style book, this is definitely one of the better Morocco interior design books around. The settings and photographs are authentic Moroccan interiors and furnishings, albeit some being set in the new Moroccan style surroundings that have become ‘de rigueur‘, especially in and around Marrakech. It gives good background on the various Moroccan interior design features such as zellige, painted wood , lanterns etc, but strangely not carved plaster. If you are looking for a reasonably priced and informative Moroccan design book that goes beyond just nice photographs, this is a good one to go for. Posted 02 May 2012

 

 

 

 

Feast Bazaar - Barry Véra

Feast Bazaar by Barry Véra

Véra travels through India, Syria and Morocco creating a book of recipes that shows the links between these cuisines, and the very different ways in which some of the same ingredients, especially spices, are used in the traditional cooking of these countries.  In the Morocco section he moves from Marrakech to Essaouira and onto Fez, visiting country villages in between.  The nature of book means that he concentrates on traditional dishes such as tajines, couscous and kefta, and there is a good selection of fish recipes. Moroccan kitchen staples such as  harissa, chermoula and ras el hanout are included, and Véra also provides useful instructions on how to season a tagine.  This book is illustrated with beautiful photographs of the food and scenery of each country and it is a book that inspires travel as well as experimentation in the kitchen. Posted 24 April 2012

 

 

In Morocco - Edith Wharton

In Morocco by Edith Wharton

Wharton's book is an account of a couple of weeks travel by the American author in Morocco.  She was invited there by Hubert Lyautey, Resident-General of the French Protectorate in Morocco at the time (at the end WW1).  I really enjoyed the book and it is a good read, however you must bear in mind that she is there as a guest of Gen. Lyautey and this has a big influence on her writing.  In particular I found the scene of her being among the first group of foreigners ever to see a religious ceremony at Moulay Idriss Zerhoun at little far-fetched, I'm sure her attendance must have been arranged far in advance of her arrival.  There is a feel that additional events from outside the timeframe of her visit were added to the story to make it more interesting, but still an enjoyable read by a good writer and an important book for anyone interested in Moroccan travel literature. Posted 16 April 2012

 

 

Morocco - Mark Luscombe & Dominic Bradbury (Conran Octopus)

Morocco by Mark Luscombe & Dominic Bradbury

This is a coffee table design book published by Conran.  Unlike other similar books that tend to focus on the ornate traditional medina dars and riads, this book includes several other aspects of Moroccan architecture and design, although the traditional is also heavily featured.  It opens with chapter on Moroccan culture and design and then goes through the various building styles, country houses, traditional medina, coastal, colonial, revival (their term for restored medina houses), and modern.  It is an interesting and a very nicely presented book that is worth a look, however, like many books of this genre, mainly produced by writers/photographers on assignment with time constraints, you get the feeling that they never had the time to get beyond the various fantastic photo opportunities that Morocco provides. Posted 09 April 2012

 

 

Hideous Kinky - Esther Freud

Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud

A young girl tells the story of a ‘hippy’ mother taking her 2 young daughters to live in Morocco.   Set in the late 60s, a young woman, possibly escaping a failed relationship, sets out overland from England for Marrakech with her 2 daughters.  The story wonderfully recounted in the voice of the youngest girl, tells how the children regularly fend for themselves in Marrakech while their mother ‘finds’ herself, often either in the arms of a man or through her pursuing an interest in Sufism.  Also  made into a film starring  Kate Winslett, that didn’t really do the book justice. Posted 02 April 2012

 

 

 

This Blinding Absence of Light - Tahar Ben Jelloun

This blinding Absence of Light Tahar Ben Jelloun

Fez born writer Tahar Ben Jelloun won the 2004 Impac Book award, the world’s richest book prize, for This Blinding Absence of Light.  The book's subject matter, the harsh prison life of some army officers who were unwittingly involved in the 1971 attempt to kill the Moroccan King Hassan II, is quite dark.  However, the book is wonderfully written (and translated) and completely enthralling, as it details the impact of a harsh prison life on the men, and the steps they take to stay alive and keep their sanity.  You are really taken into the mind of main character and find yourself willing a positive outcome to his and his fellow prisoners' ordeal.  Read this book. Posted 26 March 2012

 

 

 

Morocco That Was - Walter Harris

Morocco That Was by Walter HarrisOne of our favourite books of travel writing on Morocco, it recounts the experiences of The Times' Tangier correspondent in the decades immediately prior to the French Protectorate.  Harris seems to have gained the confidence of various influential Moroccans including sultans and tribal chiefs and details the life and intrigue in Morocco in the period before the arrival of the French.   On one occasion he describes the delivery of an elaborate carriage that the sultan had ordered, but how it was left to rot as there was not a single road in the country at the time, less than 25 years later Morocco had a rail service and roads built by the French.  A well written and important read for those with an interest in either Moroccan history or travel. Posted 19 March 2012

 

 

 

A Life full of Holes - Driss Ben Hamed Charhadi (aka Larbi Larachi)

A Life full of Holes by Driss Ben Hamed CharhadiThis was the first book of 'Moghrebi writings' that Paul Bowles helped produce, where the ‘authors’  recounted in darija (the local Arabic dialect) their stories to tape, and Bowles would later translate and transcribe them, Mohammed Mrabet becoming the most well known these Moghrebi 'writers'.   The book consists of various ‘stories’ from the life of Larachi.  They seem to be set in 50's either side of the 1956 French departure from Morocco, but with much of it being based in Tangier, it also features some element of the Spanish occupation & influence in the north of Morocco.  As with many of these ‘Moghrebi’ books there is some exploration of the relationships between Moroccans and westerners and the exploitation from both sides.  Although less folklorish than some of Mrabet's writings, the stories still have a slightly surreal feel to them.  It is an easy to read book that gives some insight into life in Morocco at that time, much of which still resonates with the Morocco of today. Posted 12 March 2012

 

 

Morocco: Jews and Art in a Muslim Land (Ed. Vivian B. Mann)

Morocco: Jews and Art in a Muslim Land (Ed. Vivian B. Mann)This book was originally produced for an exhibition at The Jewish Museum, New York.  It mixes photographs and exhibition pieces with 6 essays exploring different aspects of Jewish life in Morocco, such as history, identity, customs, religion, karbalah etc.  Unlike some Art style books the text here is essential reading.  It was interesting to learn about the different lives of urban and rural Jewish population, and to read more details of the Jewish departure from Morocco, to Israel (mostly the poorer Jews) and France and North America for the more affluent.  I always assumed that many Morocco Jews left due to violence or at least the serious threat of it, but when visiting the Jewish Museum in Camden, London recently, a curator there confirmed that it was not really a factor and that there was a lot of pressure from Israel on Moroccan Jews to move there, even with Mossad agents visiting Jewish communities to convince them to relocate.    I would have liked some photographs of Jewish houses and interiors (not a single domestic tarma in sight), but overall a really lovely book. Posted 07 March 2012

 

 

The Food of Morocco - Tess Mallos (Murdoch Books)

The Food of Morocco by Tess Mallos (Murdoch Books)This substantial book covers most aspects of Moroccan food.  It is full of wonderful recipes and the excellent photography includes some instructional photos in addition to those of the finished dishes.  There are some nice photos of Morocco with the focus of course being on food scenes and the souks.    Nice to see a photo of one of our favourite little tea shops (Abdel-illah's at the back of the Nejarine wood workshop) in the Tea ceremony section.  A well researched and put-together book. Posted 28 February 2012

 

 

 

 

Leo the African - Amin Maalouf

Leo the African by Amin MaaloufLebanese author, Maalouf, has become well known for books that recreate the story of the lives of several well known characters from the Orient.  Many of his covers (the Abacus editions) have designs that seem to be directly taken from fassi tile or painted wood patterns.  

Here we have the story of Hasan Al Wazzan (later Leo Africanus) a muslim refugee from Granada in Al Andalus who settled with his family in Fez in the late 15th century, and eventually after adventures in Morocco, Egypt & Turkey, ends up in the service of the pope and converting (or not?) to Christianity.  A gripping and very well written book of which about half is devoted to 'Leo's' formative years here in Fez. Posted 21/02/2012

 

 

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