Books and Movies
One of the best ways to get into the spirit of a trip to any country is to read about it or watch a film set there. Here are some mood-setting recommendations.
Books on Morocco written by foreign authors abound and provide a great way to learn about the country's culture and traditions before you travel there.
The late American expatriate writer, who lived for many years in Tangier, is among the most well known. Although Bowles's most famous novel, The Sheltering Sky, purports to take place in Algeria, the tale of a doomed triangle of young Americans adrift in North Africa is quintessentially Moroccan in both tone and content. The Spider's House is a superb historical novel and portrait of Fez at the end of the French protectorate. The most comprehensive collection of Bowles's short stories is the Collected Stories of Paul Bowles 1939-76. Days: A Journal, is a series of musings and accounts of daily events that Bowles effortlessly (or so it seems) elevates to the level of artistic essays. All of Bowles's nonfiction is notable, but Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue is the most revealing and informative on Morocco.
Writings by Jane Auer Bowles, Paul's wife, are no less interesting than her husband's. A Tangier resident from the 1940s until her 1973 death in a Spanish mental institution, Auer Bowles's Everything Is Nice: Collected Stories is a flawless portrait of expatriate life in Morocco.
A recent addition to the Moroccan expatriate artist community is the Anglo-Afghan travel writer Tahir Shah. In 2003, he packed up his cushy life in London, moved to Morocco with his wife and young children, and bought a crumbling mansion in the middle of a Casablanca slum. The Caliph's House humorously depicts Shah's yearlong restoration of Dar Khalifa, including his struggle to rid the house of jinns, magical spirits that haunt unoccupied houses. Shah's account of living in a jinn-infested house offers an outsider's inside perspective of Moroccan culture. Another of Shah's Morocco-based novels, In Arabian Nights, looks at how stories and the art of storytelling are used to transmit information, education, and values from one generation to the next in Morocco and the Arab world in general.
Highlights include The Voices of Marrakesh, by Elias Canetti; Tangier: City of the Dream, by Iain Finlayson; and A Year in Marrakesh, by Peter Mayne. Among turn-of-the-20th-century accounts, French novelist Pierre Loti's Au Maroc is a classic. Charles de Foucauld, a French nobleman, army officer, and missionary, chronicled his time in Morocco in his book Reconnaissance au Maroc. For more historical and ethnographical accounts, find Edith Wharton's 1920 In Morocco; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Wind, Sand and Stars; and Walter Harris's 1921 Morocco That Was. Zohra's Ladder & Other Moroccan Tales, by Pamela Windo, is a collection of stories that took place during the author's seven years living in Morocco; Windo depicts both the stunning landscapes of the country and the genuine connections she made with the people. The book makes a good companion to a guidebook when travelling to Morocco. And although it's really a work of history, Lords of the Atlas: The Rise and Fall of the House of Glaoua 1893–1956 by Gavin Maxwell, is the quintessential tale of a Moroccan dynasty that built some of most important and iconic kasbahs in the High Atlas; although out of print in the United States, the British edition can be ordered online.
Paula Wolfert's Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco is excellent for its fabulous recipes as well as its photographs and background on the Moroccan social context. Kitty Morse, born in Casablanca to a French mother and British father, is the author of five cookbooks on the cuisine of Morocco and North Africa, including Cooking at the Kasbah: Recipes from my Moroccan Kitchen and The Scent of Orange Blossoms. Clock Book: Recipes from a Modern Moroccan Kitchen, by food critic and travel writer Tara Stevens, provides new twists on traditional Moroccan dishes.
Written by a former correspondent to the New York Times, Marvine Howe's Morocco: The Islamist Awakening and Other Challenges describes Morocco's development during the late King Hassan II's reign, as well as the present King Mohammed VI's attempts to move the country away from autocracy to democracy.
More and more often, films from Moroccan directors are both entertaining and shed light on Moroccan culture, but they may be difficult to find on DVD.
À la recherche du mari de ma femme (Looking for My Wife's Husband) is the light-hearted semiautobiographical 1995 film (in French) by director Mohamed Abderrahmen Tazi. It tells the story of Hadj and his three wives, each woman from a different generation, and the difficulties when he kicks one of his wives out. When Hadj gets angry with his youngest wife, he kicks her out of the harem, and she modernizes herself. After he has a change of heart and wants her back, he realizes that he can only remarry her after she marries someone else and is rejected by this new husband.
Marock, a 2005 film (in French) by female director Laila Marrakchi, was highly controversial, exploring the romantic relationship between two teenagers, one Muslim and one Jewish. In addition to the interreligious theme, the movie allows viewers to see the contrast between rich and poor—how the worlds of the rich and poor meet continuously yet stay forever separate.
Of the many Western films set in Morocco, no doubt the most famous is the 1942 classic Casablanca.
Hideous Kinky, the 1998 adaptation of the novel by the same name, tells the story of an adventurous young mother who moves to Marrakesh in the 1960s.
The Sheltering Sky, Bernando Bertolucci's 1990 interpretation of Paul Bowles's 1949 novel, is a dark, romantic comedy with stunning images of North Africa.
The very loose 1991 adaptation of William Burroughs's Naked Lunch is a fictional biography combining pieces of the novel with autobiographical accounts of Burroughs's life, including the period he lived in Tangier.
One story line in Alejandro González Iñárritu's 2006 Babel, featuring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, takes place in the High Atlas Mountains.
Morocco has a vibrant film studio, and a great many films that do not take place in Morocco were nonetheless shot there, most notably Othello, Lawrence of Arabia, The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Alexander, Body of Lies, Green Zone, The Bourne Ultimatum, andHanna.
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