Books and Movies
One of the best ways to get into the travel spirit for any country is to read a book 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 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 1939–76, 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.
For an amusing and eye-opening journey into the hidden underbelly of Casablanca, Tahir Shah's Casablanca Blues is recommended. The novel builds on Shah's earlier books (especially The Caliph's House and In Arabian Nights), informing through twists and turns on Moroccan culture, superstitions, etiquette, and the kingdom's rich folklore. The popularity of this latest work comes as no surprise to readers of the author’s previous books on this region, which humorously describe his restoration of a crumbling mansion in the middle of a Casablanca slum and detail the art of storytelling. Dar Khalifa, the house in question, remains to this day, despite an intensive beautification project raging around its charming old walls. As in his previous two books on Morocco, Shah’s writing is packed with personal accounts, anecdotes, and insights.
The Last Storytellers is essential reading for visitors to Marrakesh, and makes a perfect holiday companion. This collection of traditional tales from the city, complete with a historical introduction, helps travelers understand its culture and mystery. Marrakesh has been central to Morocco's ancient storytelling tradition for nearly a thousand years. Storytellers have gathered in the legendary square of the city, to recount ancient folktales and fables to rapt audiences since its foundation in the 11th century. But this unique chain of oral wisdom, once passed seamlessly from generation to generation, is now on the brink of extinction. Hamilton witnesses, firsthand, the death throes of this rich and captivating tradition and, in the labyrinth of the medina, tracks down the last few remaining storytellers, recording these precious tales for posterity and enjoyment.
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 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 genuine connections she made with the people. The book makes a good companion to a guidebook when traveling 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 the 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, 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.
Horses of God is a highly controversial but beautifully shot drama set in the shantytowns of Casablanca and based on the 2003 terrorist attacks across the city. The 2012 film focuses on young men and their radicalization once faced with poverty, corruption, violence, and mental illness. It is a troubling portrayal of youth without hope or regard for others; one that has been labeled as “brutal” by its critics, both at home and abroad. The work is sometimes cited as a warning to the country’s policymakers, who are keenly aware of the need to raise the standard of living among the poor and disenfranchised. Moroccan Arabic with French subtitles.
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 Laïla Marrakchi, was highly controversial, exploring the romantic relationship between two teenagers, one Muslim and one Jewish. In addition to the interreligious theme, the movie shows viewers the contrast between rich and poor and how the two worlds meet continuously yet stay forever separate.
Of the many Western films set in Morocco, and 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, Bernardo 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, and Hanna.