The best books about or set within Morocco

Who am I?

Tahir Shah has spent his professional life searching for the hidden underbelly of lands through which he travels. In doing so he often uncovers layers of life that most other writers hardly even realise exist. With a world-wide following, Tahir’s work has been translated into more than thirty languages, in hundreds of editions. His documentaries have been screened on National Geographic TV, The History Channel, Channel 4, and in cinemas the world over. The son of the writer and thinker Idries Shah, Tahir was born into a prominent Anglo-Afghan family, and seeks to bridge East with West through his work.

I wrote...

Travels with Nasrudin

By Tahir Shah,

Book cover of Travels with Nasrudin

What is my book about?

The wise fool of Oriental folklore, Nasrudin is known across a vast swathe of the globe – from Morocco in the west, to Indonesia in the east. Appearing under different names and in all manner of guises, he’s universally admired for his back-to-front brand of genius – so much so that at least a dozen countries insist he was one of them. Tahir Shah explores this figure while examining his life, his travel, and his thoughts.

The books I picked & why

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The Sultan's Wife

By Jane Johnson,

Book cover of The Sultan's Wife

Why this book?

Good writers of historical fiction blend layers of fact and fantasy together into an irresistible kaleidoscope. The very best of them are time travellers. And, that’s what Jane Johnson certain is… for her magical novel, set in the days of Sultan Moulay Ismail, sucks the reader back through centuries to a time when the Barbary Coast was a wild rumpus of a place – peppered with palaces and pirates, treasure, secrets, intrigue, and danger. I love this book because it’s not a dry historical read, so much as an intricate observation on the relationship between people, both elegant and deeply touching.

The Last Storytellers: Tales from the Heart of Morocco

By Richard Hamilton,

Book cover of The Last Storytellers: Tales from the Heart of Morocco

Why this book?

Far too many foreigners, myself included, have rocked up in Morocco and set to work recording versions of traditional tales for an outside audience. Almost all of them have realized that, what they imagined would be a straightforward exercise, was a near-impossible feat. One of the few European writers who have succeeded, and succeeded exceptionally well, is BBC reporter Richard Hamilton. As I read The Last Storytellers, I marvelled at how well he succeeded where so many others failed. The reason is that Hamilton has two qualities in abundance: patience and sensitivity. Reading the stories he presents takes me to the central square in Marrakech, Jma al Fna. I can see it, feel it, smell it, and, most importantly, I can hear the storytellers there recounting tales that pre-date A Thousand and One Nights.

The Assembly of the Dead

By Saeida Rouass,

Book cover of The Assembly of the Dead

Why this book?

The books I like about certain places tend to be written by people who have not been born and raised there. It’s because the author has detachment, which makes their sense of observation all the keener. But, best books about places seem to be by authors who have some ancestral connection to that place. It’s as though they’re attached to it through their genes. Saeida Rouass, was born in London to Moroccan parents. From the very first line on the very first page of her book Assembly of the Dead, you can feel she’s not English, but rather that she’s connected by some magical alchemy to Morocco, the land of her ancestors. Rouass is a dazzling writer, one who bridges East and West in the most exceptional and unusual way.

Hideous Kinky

By Esther Freud,

Book cover of Hideous Kinky

Why this book?

There have been droves of books written by beatniks, hippies, non-conformists and bohemians, but far fewer by their children. Their offspring experienced the trials and tribulations of having parents on quests for flower power enlightenment. I have an inside-out interest in this, because my father (the Sufi writer Idries Shah) was one of the people everyone seemed to be making a beeline for in the swinging ’sixties just as I was being born. Of all the books by the children born or raised in the Age of Aquarius, Hideous Kinky stands out by far as the most beguiling. I absolutely adore the way Esther Freud reveals the tale, gently and evenly, and with a voice that’s as sweet as the Winter oranges on Morocco’s trees.

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail

By Michele Fitoussi, Malika Oufkir,

Book cover of Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail

Why this book?

This book haunts me in a way that almost no other published work does. It’s like one of those movies we all have on a secret list – that we adore but can’t bear to ever watch again (like the Killing Fields or Fight Club). A memoir of almost unparalleled beauty and horror, it tells the true-life tale of the daughter of General Oufkir, who was put to death for attempted regicide. Malika and her five siblings were imprisoned for fifteen years in a penal colony, from where they mounted a daring escape.

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