Others who spent time in the city include Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Genet, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and Juan Goytisolo. Some years ago, Mohamed Choukri wrote three short books about his relationships with Genet, Williams and Paul Bowles — the three expat authors he knew best. These books are collected in “In Tangier” and make for a fascinating, and at times disturbing, reflection on art, collaboration and power.
If I have no time for day trips, what books could take me there instead?
Driss Chraibi’s classic “The Simple Past” — published in 1954, when Morocco was on the cusp of regaining its independence — is set in Casablanca and Fez. It’s an entrancing novel, full of violence and beauty, about a teenager’s rebellion against his tea-merchant father (referred to throughout the book as “the Lord”) and the French administrators who run the country. Coming across the work of Chraibi in my teens was an important part of my literary education, and he’s remained a reference since.
Another book I recommend often is “Year of the Elephant,” by Leila Abouzeid, translated from the Arabic by Barbara Parmenter, which is about an anticolonial activist from Rabat whose husband divorces her abruptly and without explanation. Abouzeid writes with great heart and spirituality about independence, identity and reinvention.
Meryem Alaoui’s “Straight From the Horse’s Mouth” follows a Casablanca sex worker who is offered a chance to appear in a Dutch film. Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan, the novel is told in diary form, in a tone that is at once dark and funny.
For a broad selection of contemporary short stories, you could also read The Common’s special issue on stories and art from Morocco, which includes works by Malika Moustadraf and Mohamed Zafzaf.
What should I read for a broader historical perspective?
“The Travels of Ibn Battuta.” In 1325, a young Amazigh by the name of Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta left Tangier for Mecca. Instead of returning home after completing his pilgrimage, he continued eastward, traveling some 75,000 miles over the next three decades — a journey reportedly longer than that of Marco Polo. At the end of his life, Ibn Battuta finally returned to Tangier and wrote — or rather, dictated — his travelogue.
I drew some inspiration from Ibn Battuta’s travelogue style for my novel “The Moor’s Account,” which is based on the true story of Estebanico — an enslaved Black man from Morocco who was brought to Florida on a colonial expedition in 1528, but quickly found himself stranded in America with three Spanish noblemen.