In no particular order, here are the novels and story collections on Morocco I've read this year:
| The Spider's House by Paul Bowles|
A fascinating swirl of events set in 1950s Fes—a city that will never again look as Bowles described it here. The intriguing characters and scenery easily compensate for the plot's slow buildup. With good reason, Spider's House is the book I most often recommend to visitors to Morocco.
| The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles|
Though one of the best known English-language books about Morocco, Sheltering Sky is also the worst of them all. To read Bowles' drivel here is nothing short of torturous, not least of all because Spider's House shows that he really had some talent. The icing on the cake? The movie manages to perfectly recreate the book's wretchedness, and is as painful to watch as Bowles' novel is to read.
| Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami|
Simplistic almost to the point of meriting re-categorization in the "young adult fiction" section, Lalami's intertwining tale follows the stories of four stereotypical Moroccans, and is nonetheless a great introduction to the country and its society. A very readable, easily accessible work.
| Five Eyes by Abdeslam Boulaich, Mohamed Choukri, Larbi Layachi, Mohammed Mrabet, Ahmed Yacoubi (trans. Paul Bowles)|
By far the most peculiar, quirky, and simply fascinating Moroccan book I have read, this story collection respects no boundaries. Bowles's hand is unmistakable, though his role in this volume was ostensibly just as transcriber and translator of the tales of these five Moroccan authors. Bizarre yet entertaining, Five Eyes is also one of the works on Morocco that I most frequently recommend. Out of print but worth seeking out.
| Year of the Elephant by Leila Abouzeid|
Personally, I found this novella—"the first by a Moroccan woman to be translated from Arabic to English"—to be a fairly uninspiring read. If indeed it was (as the intro indicates) a smash hit as a serial in the local Arabic-language newspapers back in the 1980s, then much of its character must have been lost in translation. The introduction, written by an American academic and colleague of the author's, is the best part, giving in the space of a few pages a fascinating overview of the colonial transition and its impact on Morocco's education system, women's rights, and national identity.
| Secret Son by Laila Lalami|
With a slight step up in complexity from Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Lalami manages to show even more intimately the struggles faced by the many down-and-out youths in Morocco today. Want to understand the mindset of the poor, the unemployed, and the frustrated in this society? Read Secret Son. Don't let the simplicity of its language fool you—this novel is good, and another of my favorite ones to recommend.
And here are some others I would have liked to read:
- A Life Full of Holes by Driss Ben Hamed Charhadi (trans. Paul Bowles)
- Desert by J. M. G. Le Clézio
- Leaving Tangier by Tahar Ben Jelloun
- Love in Two Languages by Abdelkebir Khatibi
- Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
- The Last Chapter by Leila Abouzeid
- The Lemon by Mohammed Mrabet (trans. Paul Bowles)
- The Polymath by Ben Salem Himmich
- The Sacred Night by Tahar Ben Jelloun
- The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun
- The Torch of Tangier by Aileen G. Baron
- This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun
- Larabi's Ox: Stories of Morocco by Tony Ardizzone
- Moroccan Folktales (Middle East Literature in Translation) by Jilali El Koudia
- My Sister's Hand in Mine: The Collected Works by Jane Bowles
- The Director and Other Stories from Morocco by Leila Abouzeid
Update: Check out the rest of my "Reading on the Road in Morocco" series here.