10 books like The Sultan's Wife

By Jane Johnson,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Sultan's Wife. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Last Storytellers

By Richard Hamilton,

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

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 Last Storytellers

By Richard Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Storytellers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marrakech is the heart and lifeblood of Morocco's ancient storytelling tradition. For nearly a thousand years, storytellers have gathered in the Jemaa el Fna, the legendary square of the city, to recount ancient folktales and fables to rapt audiences. But this unique chain of oral tradition that has passed seamlessly from generation to generation is teetering on the brink of extinction. The competing distractions of television, movies and the internet have drawn the crowds away from the storytellers and few have the desire to learn the stories and continue their legacy. Richard Hamilton has witnessed at first hand the death…


The Assembly of the Dead

By Saeida Rouass,

Book cover of The Assembly of the Dead

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.

The Assembly of the Dead

By Saeida Rouass,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Assembly of the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Morocco, 1906. The country is caught between growing European influence and domestic instability. As young women disappear from the alleyways of Marrakesh, Farook Al-Alami, a detective from Tangier, is summoned to solve the case of the apparent abductions. Investigating crimes in a country without a police force, Farook enters Marrakesh on the orders of the Sultan. But, in a city under siege from famine and death, he must rely on his own intuition and skill to uncover the mystery of the women s fate. Will anything halt the spate of disappearances until then? And can a single, criminal pair of…


Hideous Kinky

By Esther Freud,

Book cover of Hideous Kinky

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.

Hideous Kinky

By Esther Freud,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hideous Kinky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An unusual story about Marrakesh in the 1960's told through the eyes of a five year old child.


Stolen Lives

By Michele Fitoussi, Malika Oufkir,

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

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.

Stolen Lives

By Michele Fitoussi, Malika Oufkir,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stolen Lives as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The daughter of a former aide to the king of Morocco, who was executed after a failed assassination attempt on the ruler, describes how she, her five siblings, and her mother were imprisoned in a desert penal colony for twenty years.


The Caliph's House

By Tahir Shah,

Book cover of The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca

Shah, a self-proclaimed “broke writer,” somehow affords a Moroccan mansion with maids, gardeners, and endless renovations. He doesn’t bother to develop his wife and kids as characters—they get even less attention than an extra in a movie. But at least you get to see Morocco through his self-obsessed eyes, which, fortunately, pay a lot of attention to detail. His immaculate use of sensory details will give you a traveling experience for even less than a Ryan Air flight. The book is a prime choice for anyone who wants to dive into Moroccan culture with all its superstitions. 

The Caliph's House

By Tahir Shah,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Caliph's House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the tradition of A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, acclaimed English travel writer Tahir Shah shares a highly entertaining account of making an exotic dream come true. By turns hilarious and harrowing, here is the story of his family’s move from the gray skies of London to the sun-drenched city of Casablanca, where Islamic tradition and African folklore converge–and nothing is as easy as it seems….

Inspired by the Moroccan vacations of his childhood, Tahir Shah dreamed of making a home in that astonishing country. At age thirty-six he got his chance. Investing what money he…


Reluctant Reception

By Kelsey P. Norman,

Book cover of Reluctant Reception: Refugees, Migration and Governance in the Middle East and North Africa

Reluctant Reception is a worthwhile read in that it addresses refugee policy from the perspective of Egypt, Morocco, and Turkey, three states located in the Middle East and North Africa. Norman argues that, like other states in the Global South, these states are often perceived as transit countries for migrants and refugees, who ultimately want to reach Europe. Norman shows, however, that these states’ lack of a strong formalized refugee policy hides the fact that political and economic interests play a major role in informing their response to migrants and refugees.

Norman also shows that apparent disinterest in migration is part of a deliberate strategy that countries in the Global South use in order to have international organizations, as well as Western governments (the latter being keen on limiting migration from the Global South), provide for the basic costs of hosting migrants and refugees. Reluctant Reception not only provides compelling…

Reluctant Reception

By Kelsey P. Norman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reluctant Reception as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Seeking to understand why host states treat migrants and refugees inclusively, exclusively, or without any direct engagement, Kelsey P. Norman offers this original, comparative analysis of the politics of asylum seeking and migration in the Middle East and North Africa. While current classifications of migrant and refugee engagement in the Global South mistake the absence of formal policy and law for neglect, Reluctant Reception proposes the concept of 'strategic indifference', where states proclaim to be indifferent toward migrants and refugees, thereby inviting international organizations and local NGOs to step in and provide services on the state's behalf. Using the cases…


Dreams Of Trespass

By Fatima Mernissi, Ruth V. Ward (photographer),

Book cover of Dreams Of Trespass: Tales Of A Harem Girlhood

This is the fictive account of a girl growing up in the women’s quarters of a conservative family in Fez Morocco in the 1940s and 50s. The narrator tells about how she is not allowed to go out and dreams of what life outside must be like. Throughout, her mother advocates for her daughters’ education and eventual ability to earn a living, but comes in conflict with her traditionally-minded mother-in-law who sees women’s roles tied to household tasks and child-rearing. Based loosely on the experiences of the author, the account provides a more nuanced depiction of the harem than the usual Western one. The author was a prominent Moroccan sociologist and outspoken feminist, and the book is particularly interesting for the sympathetic way she presents these women’s lives.

Dreams Of Trespass

By Fatima Mernissi, Ruth V. Ward (photographer),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dreams Of Trespass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I was born in a harem in 1940 in Fez, Morocco..." So begins Fatima Mernissi in this exotic and rich narrative of a childhood behind the iron gates of a domestic harem. In Dreams of Trespass , Mernissi weaves her own memories with the dreams and memories of the women who surrounded her in the courtyard of her youth,women who, deprived of access to the world outside, recreated it from sheer imagination. Dreams of Trespass is the provocative story of a girl confronting the mysteries of time and place, gender and sex in the recent Muslim world.


The Hospital

By Ahmed Bouanani, Lara Vergnaud (translator),

Book cover of The Hospital

A deeply unsettling book, The Hospital occupies those liminal spaces that lie somewhere between illness and health, memory and madness. The narrator is admitted to the hospital to receive treatment for an unspecified disease and finds that the labyrinthine corridors and wards match those of his mind. Casablanca-born author Ahmed Bouanani was confined to a hospital bed for six months after contracting tuberculosis. Part hallucinatory fever dream and part half-remembered memoir, the book is a unique blend of Moroccan history and surrealist horror.

The Hospital

By Ahmed Bouanani, Lara Vergnaud (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hospital as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"When I walked through the large iron gate of the hospital, I must have still been alive..." So begins Ahmed Bouanani's arresting, hallucinatory 1989 novel The Hospital, appearing for the first time in English translation. Based on Bouanani's own experiences as a tuberculosis patient, the hospital begins to feel increasingly like a prison or a strange nightmare: the living resemble the dead; bureaucratic angels of death descend to direct traffic, claiming the lives of a motley cast of inmates one by one; childhood memories and fantasies of resurrection flash in and out of the narrator's consciousness as the hospital transforms…


Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits

By Laila Lalami,

Book cover of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits

Another powerful debut on border-crossing, this novel begins with a frame-chapter or a prologue of sorts called “The Trip” that shows a group of Moroccans fleeing to Spain for a better life on a ramshackle boat. The following subsections, “Before” and “After,” zoom into the lives of the characters introduced in the opening chapter to highlight the socio-economic reasons leading them to risk their lives by crossing the Mediterranean Sea illegally, and their gritty fate once the boat fails them, as they’re stranded in Spain or deported to Morocco. Some critics have called the novel a collection of interconnected stories, although the book’s “prologue” is hardly a standalone story; it aligns the novel instead with an alternative structural aesthetic, one that recalls the frame narratives of oral storytelling traditions like The Thousand and One Nights, an obvious influence on the book. 

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits

By Laila Lalami,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A dream of a debut, by turns troubling and glorious, angry and wise.” —Junot Diaz​

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, the debut of Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist Laila Lalami, evokes the grit and enduring grace that is modern Morocco. The book begins as four Moroccans illegally cross the Strait of Gibraltar in an inflatable boat headed for Spain.What has driven them to risk their lives? And will the rewards prove to be worth the danger?

There’s Murad, a gentle, unemployed man who’s been reduced to hustling tourists around Tangier; Halima, who’s fleeing her drunken husband and the…


The Sultan’s Jew

By Daniel Schroeter,

Book cover of The Sultan’s Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi World

Daniel Schroeter’s The Sultan’s Jew focuses on the colorful life of Me'ir Macnin (d. 1835), an ambassador-at-large for two successive Moroccan sultans. Schroeter uses Macnin’s life to discuss three main topics: the relationship between Jews and Muslims in Morocco; the relationship between Moroccan Jews and the Sephardic world beyond; and Morocco’s relationship with Europe. Macnin’s ambassadorial stint in London, which eventually saw him become the president of the city’s main synagogue, also allows Schroeter to talk about the complexities of Jewish life in Britain and of Sephardic/Ashkenazic rivalries. The power of Schroeter’s work is in presenting a sophisticated political and socio-economic study through the lens of a gripping biography.

The Sultan’s Jew

By Daniel Schroeter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sultan’s Jew as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This pathbreaking study uses the extraordinary life of Meir Macnin, a prosperous Jewish merchant, as a lens for examining the Jewish community of Morocco and its relationship to the Sephardi world in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Macnin, a member of one of the most prominent Jewish families in Marrakesh, became the most important merchant for the sultans who ruled Morocco, and was their chief intermediary between Morocco and Europe. He lived in London for about twenty years, and then shuttled between Morocco and England for fifteen years until his death in 1835.

This book challenges accepted views…


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