December 25, 2010

Take Me Morocco

Take Me Away Saturday

For those of you unfamiliar with Take Me Away Saturday: I started it because I love books that take place in different cultures and are about different cultures. Take Me Away is a way to share with other readers books that can transport them into another culture. Each week I feature a different country or culture (ex. Cherokee, Jewish, etc. that do not have a specific country per se) and list some books that can transport you there. (Note: ex. not necessarily books by a German or an Australian, but books set in Germany or Australia.) I try to provide a variety of fiction genres as well as nonfiction selections.

I am keeping a map of the countries we visit, which you can see at the bottom of this post. There is also a list of both countries and cultures visited in past Take Me Away posts. Check them out and discover some good books to read and recommend some, too!

This week we are visiting the North African country of Morocco:

Click on the titles of the books below to read reviews and/or purchase the book.
Disclaimer: I do not receive commissions if you purchase a book through the link I provide, whether from Amazon, Indiebound, or otherwise.

A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco by Suzanna Clarke

The Medina -- the Old City -- of Fez is the best-preserved, medieval walled city in the world. Inside this vibrant Moroccan community, internet cafes and mobile phones coexist with a maze of donkey-trod alleyways, thousand-year-old sewer systems, and Arab-style houses, gorgeous with intricate, if often shabby, mosaic work.
While vacationing in Morocco, Suzanna Clarke and her husband, Sandy, are inspired to buy a dilapidated, centuries-old riad in Fez with the aim of restoring it to its original splendor, using only traditional craftsmen and handmade materials. So begins a remarkable adventure that is bewildering, at times hilarious, and ultimately immensely rewarding. A House in Fez chronicles their meticulous restoration, but it is also a journey into Moroccan customs and lore and a window into the lives of its people as friendships blossom. When the riad is finally returned to its former glory, Suzanna finds she has not just restored an old house, but also her soul.

Flavors of Morocco: Delicious Recipes from North Africa by Ghillie Basan and Peter Cassidy

Moroccan food is sensual exotic, and a feast for the eyes. In "Flavors of Morocco", Ghillie Basan brings you tantalizing recipes for authentic Moroccan food, allowing you to recreate the scents and flavors of this fascinating culinary tradition at home. Follow simple Kemsia and Salad recipes such as Garlicky Fava Bean Dip or Carrot and Cumin Salad with Orange Blossom Water. Make the traditional Classic Chicken Pie with Cinnamon (B'Stilla), the classic Lamb Tagine with Almonds, Prunes, and Apricots, Roast Duck with Honey, Pears, and Figs. Also appearing throughout the book are essays on: The Olive and the Argan; Islam, Ramadan, and Bread; Dadas and the Traditional Kitchen; Berber Traditions and Tagines; The Art of Making Couscous; The Souks, Spices, and Sensual Flavors; and finally, Hospitality and Mint Tea. Moroccan food is hugely popular--it's delicious and easy to cook. Beautifully photographed on location by Peter Cassidy.

The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah

When Shah, his pregnant wife and their small daughter move from England to Morocco, where he'd vacationed as a child, he enters a realm of "invisible spirits and their parallel world." Shah buys the Caliph's House, once a palatial compound, now heavy with algae, cobwebs and termites. Unoccupied for a decade, the place harbors a willful jinni (invisible spirit), who Shah, the rational Westerner, reluctantly grasps must be exorcised by traditional means. As Shah remodels the haunted house, he encounters a cast of entertaining, sometimes bizarre characters. Three retainers, whose lives are governed by the jinni, have attached themselves to the property. Confounding craftsmen plague but eventually beautify the house. Intriguing servants come and go, notably Zohra, whose imaginary friend, a 100-foot tall jinni, lives on her shoulder. A "gangster neighbor and his trophy wife" conspire to acquire the Caliph's House, and a countess remembers Shah's grandfather and his secrets. Passers-through offer eccentricity (Kenny, visiting 15 cities on five continents where Casablanca is playing; Pete, a convert to Islam, seeking "a world without America"). There is a thin, dark post-9/11 thread in Shah's elegantly woven tale. The dominant colors, however, are luminous.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The charming tale of Santiago, a shepherd boy, who dreams of seeing the world, is compelling in its own right, but gains resonance through the many lessons Santiago learns during his adventures. He journeys from Spain to Morocco in search of worldly success, and eventually to Egypt, where a fateful encounter with an alchemist brings him at last to self-understanding and spiritual enlightenment. The story has the comic charm, dramatic tension and psychological intensity of a fairy tale, but it's full of specific wisdom as well, about becoming self-empowered, overcoming depression, and believing in dreams.

In Morocco by Edith Wharton

During her travels in Morocco in 1917, Wharton kept a rather complete, descriptive account of her experiences. As expected of such a superbly talented author, her observations are well written and interesting. While this gives listeners a real feel for desert living and tribes, it does not include a map, which would have been helpful in following and better understanding her journey. Wharton provides some historical perspective and unusual insight into the travel of that period and into the lives of women. Her account of visits to harems provide the most educational and fascinating listening. Anna Fields reads beautifully, gliding through a great many difficult names, making only one detectable pronunciation error. Unfortunately, old travel books normally attract a rather limited audience. True armchair travelers or those with a special interest in Morocco may be interested.

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi and Ros Schwartz (Translator)

A gripping memoir that reads like a political thriller--the story of Malika Oufkir's turbulent and remarkable life. Born in 1953, Malika Oufkir was the eldest daughter of General Oufkir, the King of Morocco's closest aide. Adopted by the king at the age of five, Malika spent most of her childhood and adolescence in the seclusion of the court harem, one of the most eligible heiresses in the kingdom, surrounded by luxury and extraordinary privilege.

Secret Son by Laila Lalami

Raised by his mother in a one-room house in the slums of Casablanca, Youssef El Mekki has always had big dreams of living another life in another world. Suddenly his dreams are within reach when he discovers that his father—whom he’d been led to believe was dead—is very much alive. A wealthy businessman, he seems eager to give his son a new start. Youssef leaves his mother behind to live a life of luxury, until a reversal of fortune sends him back to the streets and his childhood friends. Trapped once again by his class and painfully aware of the limitations of his prospects, he becomes easy prey for a fringe Islamic group. In the spirit of The Inheritance of Loss and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Laila Lalami’s debut novel looks at the struggle for identity, the need for love and family, and the desperation that grips ordinary lives in a world divided by class, politics, and religion.

Sheik by Connie Mason

Princess Zara had been raised a warrior, always at her father's side in battle against the Arabs who had stolen their land. So when she's taken prisoner by Sheik Jamal Abd Thabbit during a raid, she was determined not to succumb to his wishes--a more difficult task than she would have ever believed.

My Father's Shop by Satomi Ichikawa

In Morocco, Mustafa's father sells beautiful carpets "in all the colors of the world" in My Father's Shop. But when helping out and learning foreign languages grows tiresome, young Mustafa decides to saunter through the market and show off his own recently acquired carpet, a damaged but still lovely thing. Through author/illustrator Satomi Ichikawa's words and pictures, young readers meet the mint seller Yacine, admire baskets and foods for sale and befriend a lively rooster. Through the bird and some friendly tourists, Mustafa learns how to crow in four languages (French, Spanish, English and Japanese) as well as his native Moroccan. And his father is especially happy when the boy returns to the shop with his new carpet-buying friends. Ages 4-8.

This is just a sampling of books on Morocco. Do you want to recommend/share books that take place in Morocco? Or do you want to share other thoughts? Please leave a note in the comments!

Be sure to check back for another trip in books!

Here is what is coming up next:
South American country of Argentina
European country of Italy

Take Me Away Map:
Couldn't get the site to work tonight. Will have map next time!

Where we've been and the books that take us there:
The Americas and the Caribbean
Triple Threat-Baltic States
Middle East
Sierra Leone
Australia, Pacific Islands
New Zealand
Cultures Across the World
Australian Aborigines
Sioux Nation
Inuit Culture
Amish Culture


  1. One of the better books I've read is The Blinding Absense of Light by Ben Tahar Jalloun. It's set in Morocco, and is based on a true story, but is written as fiction. Very powerful story about a prisoner left in a hole in the ground. Excellent.

  2. I've always loved this feature of your blog. I will definitely read Secret Son since it's on the Orange Prize longlist this year and I'm doing Orange January too right now. I didn't know it was set in Morocco, thanks. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles is probably the only fiction set there that I've read. Take care.

  3. I totally forgot The Alchemist was set in Morocco! For some reason I thought it was set in Spain, which I guess is close-ish.

  4. I loved the Caliph's House so I'll definitely be checking out A House in Fez.

  5. Tasha- The Alchemist takes place in several places I believe. You may still be right in that one of them is Spain.

  6. Hi - My family is traveling to Morocco in late February. To help my children understand the culture, I would love recommendations for books based in Morocco that would be appropriate for 10-12 year olds. THis would be a book that we would read aloud together, so it can be complicated. I just want the themes to be appropriate for their age.
    Thank you.

  7. Hi,Thank you for this information,Morocco is a country with a long history ,magic and traditions.

    1. Glad you liked! I would love to visit Morocco one day.


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