It’s hard to select just five books on Morocco because there are so many. The landscape lends itself to stories about journeys and travel, the cuisine to books about Moroccan food; Morocco is home to the tagine and also produces top quality saffron from farms in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The history of the country is as deep and complex as their religion, politics and colourful architecture which is a designer’s dream. Unsurprisingly many novelists have been inspired to set books in Morocco just as I was. When I was researching The Saffron Trail I read a variety of these books in order to find out as much as I could about the country, to absorb the flavours and different perspectives – both historical and contemporary - and to try to dig down deep into this fascinating culture. These five were among the most useful.
The Saffron Trail by Rosanna Ley is published this week (Quercus, £7.99).
Zohra's Ladder and other Moroccan Tales by Pamela Windo
Described as "a poetic and richly sensual chronicle of a Westerner's unexpected love affair with Morocco", this book comprises 26 personal vignettes describing some of Windo’s experiences in Morocco, where she lived for seven years. Her writing style is accessible with an almost dream-like quality and yet she is honest – she tells it how it is. Windo’s richly-textured prose impart some of the soul of the country for me; she paints delicate portraits of Moroccan people and places, imparting warmth and passion as well as the colours and flavours of the land. Most importantly, she makes her reader want to go there and experience some of it for herself.
The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert
The stunning cover image of a saffron flower drew me to this luscious book. Wolfert includes a number of classical dishes as well as some more unusual regional variations. But this is no ordinary recipe book. Food of Morocco dips into Moroccan culture – by way of the taste buds – and is highly informative too. One of my characters in The Saffron Trail is learning to cook Moroccan cuisine so this was vital research for me. And I didn’t want Nell to just cook it, I wanted her to fall in love with it too. This is not the first book Paula Wolfert has compiled on Moroccan cuisine and her passion shines through.
Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud
I first read this semi-autobiographical novel many years ago and loved it. A young woman takes her two daughters to live a somewhat bohemian existence in Morocco in the 1960s and the story is told through the eyes of the younger daughter. This provides us with the fresh unbiased viewpoint of a child. The book was important for my research because I wanted to write a bit about the hippie culture in Morocco at that time. Freud’s account is simple, uncluttered and honest with lots of sensory detail and much interpretation open to the reader. And I love the title. It’s an iconic book about living in 1960s Morocco.
A Year in Marrakech by Peter Mayne
This takes us back to 1950s Morocco before the country became much of a tourist destination. And this is the joy of the book since Mayne does not dwell on tourist places in the least. He is in Marrakech for a different purpose – to focus on the writing of his first novel. So instead he provides an insightful and entertaining account of the people he meets while he is living with the locals which captures the way of life in the medina and the flavours to be found therein. I especially enjoyed his hilarious description of having a massage in the hammam. Marrrakech must have been even more of an exotic experience back then...
In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah
Shortly after the 2005 London bombings, Tahir Shah was thrown into a Pakistani prison on suspicion of spying for Al-Qaeda. He was sustained during this terrifying ordeal, he says, by the stories his father told him as a child in Morocco. On his return, he felt compelled to go in search of his country’s storytellers – and this book represents the treasure-chest he found. I love discovering the fables and legends of a country I am writing about and this book did not disappoint. It is full of vivid and eccentric characters and reinforces the fact that the art of storytelling and the passing down from father to son or mother to daughter is still very much alive.
Amazir by Tom Gamble
Adventure and romance with a dash of coming of age thrown in. Set in North Africa and Morocco in the late 1930s, where French Colonials are fighting for control and Europe is on the cusp of the Second World War, Amazir tells the story of an idealistic young Englishman, Harry Summerfield, who befriends an American oil explorer in Gibraltar. This meeting sparks a journey for both men in which they encounter the harsh realities of Berber opposition to French colonial rule and fall in love with the same young French woman. Gamble gives us fascinating descriptions of a simple Berber life in the mountains written in an engaging style.