Friday, August 31, 2007

Books about Fez

As so often happens at Thami's, Lumen got talking last night to a couple of English tourists, Adrian and Jackie. 'Are there any books set in Fez?' asked Adrian, which is a very good question. Here are some - anybody know of any more?

Probably the most well-known is The Spider’s House by Paul Bowles. Here is Fez inthe last days of the French occupation, providing the background for this political novel.
Titus Burckhardt's tome, Fez, City of Islam has been republished with the original 1930s black-and-white photographs as well as some new ones, and gives a profound understanding of Islamic history, culture and religion.
In Morocco by Edith Wharton portrays the 1920 memoirs of an American invited to tour Morocco by the French Resident-General Lyautey. Wharton’s approach is Orientalist and somewhat patronising, but the book is interesting for her impressions of markets, harems, palaces and mosques she visited.
Leo the African by the Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf is a rendition of the true story of Hasan al-Wazzan who became known as Leo Africanus. Fleeing the Inquisition in Spain, this 16th century traveller and writer spent his childhood and young adulthood in Fez and paints a remarkable picture of life in the city at that time.
Lords of the Atlas by Gavin Maxwell touches on Fez while it tells of political intrigue centred on the Glaoui brothers of Marrakech. Note that Walter Harris’ Morocco That Was is largely reproduced in the appendix of this book.
Morocco That Was by Walter Harris, The Times correspondent in Morocco in the early part of the 20th century is full of local culture and includes his espionage for the British and French. He tells of his 35 years in Morocco with a great deal of humour.

And somewhat more current:
Reviews of The Road to Fez by Ruth Knafo Setton are effusive, though Lumen wasn't so keen. It's the tale of a young Moroccan-born American-Jewish woman, who goes back to visit her family in Morocco, and falls in love with her uncle. Interwoven in the story is the story of Suleika, a nineteenth century woman who was tortured and killed for her beliefs.
Fatema Mernissi's Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood draws on her own Fassi childhood memories and the dreams of the women surrounding her. It's an imaginative story of a girl exploring the boundaries of time and place, gender and sex within the last 70 years.
The Cobbler’s Apprentice by Sandy McCutcheon has a theme of terrorism, counter-terrorism and bacteriological warfare and this thriller is partly set in the babouche workshops and tiny alleyways of the Fez medina. A young Palestinian escapes from Guantanamo Bay and becomes an agent of mass destruction.

Soon to come is the exciting new book by Suzanna Clarke, House in Fez. With feisty determination, Clarke and her husband plunged into the process of restoring an old riad that veered between frustration, hilarity and moments of pure exhilaration. This book explores Moroccan culture, history and Islam, traditional Sufi rituals and the world of women.

There's one other book that touches on Fez, A Year in the World by Frances Mayes. Lumen first turned to the chapter on Mayes' visit to Fez and it was delightful to read about Lori Wood's Pasha Baghdadi Massriya and the glowing comments about Hafid El-Amrani who manages it and is a familiar face to many in the medina. Despite the author's fame as the writer of 'Under the Tuscan Sun' that was turned into a film, Lumen found the writing vapid and vacuous and just had to stop reading altogether when the old Moorish quarter of Lisbon was described as 'deeply exotic'.



Matthew Helmke said...

I have a book on Moroccan culture that I researched and wrote in Fez. You might find it interesting as it goes with the topic of this post. I'm currently out of town, but I'll be back in Fez in a week.

Here's a website for more info if you are curious:

Unknown said...

Thankyou Samir and Lumen,

great article: Books about Fez

where can I get Burckhardt's Fez, City of Islam, in English, in Fez?

Anonymous said...

Another book set in Fes (and other parts of Morocco) is
The Tattooed Map by Barbara Hodgson
Pub. Chronicle Books, San Francisco.
A beautifully produced book. Evocative story. Wonderful layout and fabulous illustrations.

P.S. THANK YOU View from Fez - great site !