Books Set In Morocco: Moroccan Novels
If you’ve ever dreamt of visiting the enchanted landscapes of North Africa, this list of books set in Morocco is sure to fuel your wanderlust! The following list of books set in Morocco provides a sprawling perspective of the country; from both Moroccan and foreign points-of-view, including both fiction and non-fiction tales.
Many of the books set in Morocco below were written by Paul Bowles, an American expatriate, author and composer who spent over 50 years living in Tangier. Some of his most notable works include The Sheltering Sky (his most famous work, which I saw everyone reading throughout my travels), Let It Come Down, The Spider’s House, Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue, A Life Full of Holes and Days.
Moroccan-French novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun is one of the most celebrated authors in France. He was raised in Fez and emigrated to Paris in 1961 where he writes about Moroccan culture in French. Many of his books set in Morocco have been translated into English; including The Sand Child, it’s sequel The Sacred Night, This Blinding Absence of Light, A Palace in the Old Village and Leaving Tangier.
Moroccan-American writer Laila Lalami is one of the few Moroccan authors writing in English, with her works such as Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Secret Son and The Moor’s Account. British author Tahir Shah is based in Casablanca and has written about Morocco in The Caliph’s House and In Arabian Nights, which celebrates the tradition of storytelling. This is also a central theme in novels such as The Last Storytellers: Tales From the Heart of Morocco and The Storyteller of Marrakesh.
I hope you enjoy these books set in Morocco; and enjoy traveling through Marrakesh, Fez, Casablanca, Rabat, Tangier and beyond. If you have any recommendations for books that I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments below!
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Books Set In Morocco
by Edith Wharton, 1919
Edith Wharton journeyed to Morocco in the final days of the First World War, at a time when there was no guidebook to the country. In Morocco is the classic account of her expedition. A seemingly unlikely chronicler, Wharton, more usually associated with American high society, explored the country for a month by military vehicle. Traveling from Rabat and Fez to Moulay Idriss and Marrakech, she recorded her encounters with Morocco’s people, traditions and ceremonies, capturing a country at a moment of transition from an almost unknown, road less empire to a popular tourist destination.
The Sheltering Sky
by Paul Bowles, 1949
Port and Kit Moresbury, a sophisticated American couple, are finding it more than a little difficult to live with each other. Endeavoring to escape this predicament, they set off for North Africa intending to travel through Algeria – uncertain of exactly where they are heading, but determined to leave the modern world behind. The results of this casually taken decision are both tragic and compelling.
Let It Come Down
by Paul Bowles, 1952
In Let It Come Down, Paul Bowles plots the doomed trajectory of Nelson Dyar, a New York bank teller who comes to Tangier in search of a different life and ends up giving in to his darkest impulses. Rich in descriptions of the corruption and decadence of the International Zone in the last days before Moroccan independence, Bowles’s second novel is an alternately comic and horrific account of a descent into nihilism.
The Spider’s House
by Paul Bowles, 1955
Set in Fez, Morocco, during that country’s 1954 nationalist uprising, The Spider’s House is perhaps Paul Bowles’s most beautifully subtle novel, richly descriptive of its setting and uncompromising in its characterizations. Exploring once again the dilemma of the outsider in an alien society, and the gap in understanding between cultures – recurrent themes of Paul Bowles’s writings – The Spider’s House is dramatic, brutally honest, and shockingly relevant to today’s political situation in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Their Heads are Green and Their Hands are Blue: Scenes from the Non-Christian World
by Paul Bowles, 1957
Their Heads are Green and their Hands are Blue is an engaging collection of eight travel essays. Except for one essay on Central America, all of these pieces are concerned with locations in the Hindu, Buddhist, or Islamic worlds. A superb and observant traveler, Paul Bowles was a born wanderer who found pleasure in the inaccessible and who cheerfully endures the concomitant hardships with a matter-of-fact humor.
Note: these travel essays are set throughout a number of locations, of which Morocco is just one!
A Life Full of Holes
by Driss ben Hamed Charhadi and Paul Bowles, 1964
One of the most unusual literary innovations ever produced, A Life Full of Holes is the result of a singular collaboration between two remarkable individuals: Driss ben Hamed Charhadi, an illiterate North African servant and street vendor, and legendary American novelist and essayist Paul Bowles. The powerful story of a shepherd and petty trafficker struggling to maintain hope as he wrestles with the grim realities of daily life, it is the first novel ever written in the Arabic dialect Moghrebi, faithfully recorded and translated into English by Bowles. Straightforward yet rich in complex emotions, it is a fascinating inside look at an unfamiliar culture—harsh and startling, yet interwoven with a poignant, poetic beauty.
Lords of the Atlas: The Rise and Fall of the House of Glaoua, 1893-1956
by Gavin Maxwell, 1966
Set in the medieval city of Marrakesh and the majestic kasbahs of the High Atlas mountains, Lords of the Atlas tells the extraordinary story of the Madani and T’hami el Glaoui, warlord brothers who carved out a feudal fiefdom in southern Morocco in the early twentieth century. Quislings of the French colonial administration, they combined the aggression of gangland mobsters with the opulence of hereditary Indian princes, and ruled with a mixture of flamboyance and terror.
The Voices of Marrakesh: A Record of a Visit
by Elias Canetti, 1968
Winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Literature, Elias Canetti uncovers the secret life hidden beneath Marrakesh’s bewildering array of voices, gestures and faces. In a series of sharply etched scenes, he portrays the languages and cultures of the people who fill its bazaars, cafes, and streets. The book presents vivid images of daily life: the storytellers in the Djema el Fna, the armies of beggars ready to set upon the unwary, and the rituals of Moroccan family life.
Morocco That Was
by Walter Burton Harris, 1970
Here are the vanished days of the unfettered Sultanate in all their dark, melodramatic splendor-a mingling of magnificence with squalor, culture with barbarism, refined cruelty with nave humor. Until 1912 Morocco never suffered foreign domination, and its mountainous interior was as closed to foreigners as Tibet. Walter Harris (1866-1933), though, was the exception. He first visited in 1887 and lived in the country for more than thirty-five years, and as the Times correspondent had observed every aspect of its life.
For Bread Alone
by Mohamed Choukri, 1973
Driven by famine from their home in the Rif, Mohamed’s family walks to Tangiers in search of a better life. But his father is unable to find work and grows violent, beating Mohamed’s mother and killing his sick younger brother in a moment of mad rage.
On moving to another province Mohamed learns how to charm and steal, and discovers the joys of drugs, sex and alcohol. Proud, insolent and afraid of no-one, Mohamed returns to Tangiers, where he is caught up in the violence of the 1952 independence riots. During a short spell in a filthy Moroccan jail, a fellow inmate kindles Mohamed’s life-altering love of poetry.
The Sand Child
by Tahar Ben Jelloun, 1985
In this lyrical, hallucinatory novel set in Morocco, Tahar Ben Jelloun offers an imaginative and radical critique of contemporary Arab social customs and Islamic law. The Sand Child tells the story of a Moroccan father’s effort to thwart the consequences of Islam’s inheritance laws regarding female offspring.
Already the father of seven daughters, Hajji Ahmed determines that his eighth child will be a male. Accordingly, the infant, a girl, is named Mohammed Ahmed and raised as a young man with all the privileges granted exclusively to men in traditional Arab-Islamic societies. As she matures, however, Ahmed’s desire to have children marks the beginning of her sexual evolution, and as a woman named Zahra, Ahmed begins to explore her true sexual identity.
Drawing on the rich Arabic oral tradition, Ben Jelloun relates the extraordinary events of Ahmed’s life through a professional storyteller and the listeners who have gathered in a Marrakesh market square in the 1950s to hear his tale. A poetic vision of power, colonialism, and gender in North Africa, The Sand Child has been justifiably celebrated around the world as a daring and significant work of international fiction.
Days: A Tangier Diary
by Paul Bowles, 1987
Between 1987 and 1989, Paul Bowles, at the suggestion of a friend, kept a journal to record the daily events of his life. What emerges is not only just a record of the meals, conversations, and health concerns of the author of The Sheltering Sky but also a fascinating look at an artist at work in a new medium. Characterized by a refreshing informality, clear-sightedness, and passages of exquisite prose, these pages record with equal fascination the behavior of an itinerant spider, a brutal episode of violence in a Tangier marketplace, and the pageantry and excess of Malcolm Forbes’s seventieth birthday party.
The Sacred Night
by Tahar Ben Jelloun, 1987
The Sacred Night continues the remarkable story Tahar Ben Jelloun began in The Sand Child. Mohammed Ahmed, a Moroccan girl raised as a boy in order to circumvent Islamic inheritance laws regarding female children, remains deeply conflicted about her identity. In a narrative that shifts in and out of reality moving between a mysterious present and a painful past, Ben Jelloun relates the events of Ahmed’s adult life. Now calling herself Zahra, she renounces her role as only son and heir after her father’s death and journeys through a dreamlike Moroccan landscape. A searing allegorical portrait of North African society, The Sacred Night uses Arabic fairy tales and surrealist elements to craft a stunning and disturbing vision of protest and rebellion against the strictures of hidebound traditions governing gender roles and sexuality.
Year of the Elephant: A Moroccan Woman’s Journey Toward Independence
by Leila Abouzeid, 1989
Offering a fictional treatment to a Muslim woman’s life, here, a personal and family crisis impells the heroine to reexamine traditional cultural attitudes toward women. Both obstacles and support systems change as she actively participates in the struggle for Moroccan independence from France.
by Esther Freud, 1992
This novel is semi-autobiographical and based on the author’s own experience of traveling with her mother Bernadine Coverley, in North Africa, between the ages of four and six. Weaving between the vivid descriptions of life on the move, the desert, and its cast of exotic characters, is a deeply moving and poignant tale of what it’s like, as a child, to be part of an unconventional family. For Freud herself, daughter of the artist Lucien, and great-granddaughter of the famed Sigmund, childhood was unlikely ever to be normal. The novel beautifully evokes the bohemian life that she and her sister, the fashion designer Bella Freud, unwittingly witnessed as children, while all the while craving a more stable upbringing.
Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood
by Fatima Mernissi, 1994
”I was born in a harem in 1940 in Fez, Morocco…” So begins Fatima Mernissi in this exotic and rich narrative of a childhood behind the iron gates of a domestic harem. In Dreams of Trespass, Mernissi weaves her own memories with the dreams and memories of the women who surrounded her in the courtyard of her youth—women who, deprived of access to the world outside, recreated it from sheer imagination. Dreams of Trespass is the provocative story of a girl confronting the mysteries of time and place, gender and sex in the recent Muslim world.
Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail
by Malika Oufkir, 1999
A gripping memoir that reads like a political thriller–the story of Malika Oufkir’s turbulent and remarkable life. Born in 1953, Malika Oufkir was the eldest daughter of General Oufkir, the King of Morocco’s closest aide. Adopted by the king at the age of five, Malika spent most of her childhood and adolescence in the seclusion of the court harem, one of the most eligible heiresses in the kingdom, surrounded by luxury and extraordinary privilege. Then, on August 16, 1972, her father was arrested and executed after an attempt to assassinate the king. Malika, her five younger brothers and sisters and her mother were immediately imprisoned in a desert penal colony.
This Blinding Absence of Light
by Tahir Ben Jelloun, 2010
A shocking story set in Morocco’s desert concentration camps, from the Prix Goncourt-winning novelist. An immediate and critically acclaimed bestseller in France, This Blinding Absence of Light is Tahar Ben Jelloun’s crafting of a horrific real-life narrative into a work of fiction.
“In this deeply moving novel,” says L’Express, “Tahar Ben Jelloun has chosen imagination as the response to inhumanity the art of writing as the ultimate liberation.” He tells the appalling story of the desert concentration camps in which King Hassan II of Morocco held his political enemies. Not until September 1991, under international pressure, was Hassan’s regime forced to open these desert hellholes.
A handful of survivors living cadavers who had shrunk by over a foot in height emerged from the six-by-three-foot cells in which they had been held underground for decades. Working closely with one of the survivors, Ben Jelloun eschewed the traditional novel format and wrote a book in the simplest of language, reaching always for the most basic of words, the most correct descriptions. The result is “a great novel,” according to Le Monde, and what Les Échos calls “a book of universal import, addressing all the horrors, past and doubtless future, that man has inflicted on his fellow men.”
Valley of the Casbahs
by Jeffrey Tayler, 2003
The 450-mile-long Draa River Valley in the Moroccan Sahara contains some of the most sumptuous oases and searing desert of the Arab world. Jeffrey Tayler follows the Draa by foot and on camel, recounting stays in casbah homes, visits to mosques and marabouts, and nights in hashish dens.
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
by Laila Lalami, 2005
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits marks the debut of an exciting new voice in fiction. Laila Lalami evokes the grit and enduring grace that is modern Morocco. The book begins as four Moroccans illegally cross the Strait of Gibraltar in an inflatable boat headed for Spain. What has driven them to risk their lives? And will the rewards prove to be worth the danger?
by Miranda Innes, 2005
Lyrical and evocative, this is a travel book masquerading as the story of the author’s purchase of a very dilapidated property in Marrakech and her attempts to renovate it. Included is the family Christmas from hell in a house with few modern conveniences, and her love affair with all things Moroccan.
The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca
by Tahir Shah, 2006
Inspired by the Moroccan vacations of his childhood, Tahir Shah dreamed of making a home in that astonishing country. At age thirty-six he got his chance. Investing what money he and his wife, Rachana, had, Tahir packed up his growing family and bought Dar Khalifa, a crumbling ruin of a mansion by the sea in Casablanca that once belonged to the city’s caliph, or spiritual leader.
With its lush grounds, cool, secluded courtyards, and relaxed pace, life at Dar Khalifa seems sure to fulfill Tahir’s fantasy–until he discovers that in many ways he is farther from home than he imagined. For in Morocco an empty house is thought to attract jinns, invisible spirits unique to the Islamic world. The ardent belief in their presence greatly hampers sleep and renovation plans, but that is just the beginning. From elaborate exorcism rituals involving sacrificial goats to dealing with gangster neighbors intent on stealing their property, the Shahs must cope with a new culture and all that comes with it.
A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco
by Suzanna Clarke, 2007
When Suzanna Clarke and her husband bought a dilapidated house in the Moroccan town of Fez, their friends thought they were mad. Located in a maze of donkey-trod alleyways, the house – a traditional riad – was beautiful but in desperate need of repair. Walls were in danger of collapse, the plumbing non-existent. While neither Suzanna nor her husband spoke Arabic, and had only a smattering of French, they were determined to restore the building to its original splendour, using only traditional craftsmen and handmade materials. But they soon found that trying to do business in Fez was like being transported back several centuries in time and so began the remarkable experience that veered between frustration, hilarity and moments of pure exhilaration.
In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams
by Tahir Shah, 2007
In this entertaining and penetrating book, Tahir sets out on a bold new journey across Morocco that becomes an adventure worthy of the mythical Arabian Nights. As he wends his way through the labyrinthine medinas of Fez and Marrakesh, traverses the Sahara sands, and tastes the hospitality of ordinary Moroccans, Tahir collects a dazzling treasury of traditional stories, gleaned from the heritage of A Thousand and One Nights, The tales, recounted by a vivid cast of characters, reveal fragments of wisdom and an oriental way of thinking that is both enthralling and fresh.
The Serpent’s Daughter
by Suzanne Arruda, 2008
Joining her mother for a holiday in the ancient port city of Tangier, American adventuress Jade del Cameron expects their trip will be far less dangerous than her safaris in East Africa. But soon after their introduction to a group of European tourists, Dona del Cameron goes missing- victim of an apparent kidnapping-and, shockingly, the French authorities seek to arrest Jade for the murder of a man whose body she discovered in a series of ancient tunnels. Now, Jade must call upon her friends to find her mother and expose the true villains, who have every intention of bringing about her own destruction…
A Handful of Honey
by Annie Hawes, 2008
Aiming to track down a small oasis town deep in the Sahara, some of whose generous inhabitants came to her rescue on a black day in her adolescence, Annie Hawes leaves her home in the olive groves of Italy and sets off along the south coast of the Mediterranean.
Traveling through Morocco and Algeria she eats pigeon pie with a family of cannabis farmers, and learns about the habits of djinns; she encounters citizens whose protest against the tyrannical King Hassan takes the form of attaching colanders to their television aerials – a practice he soon outlaws – and comes across a stone-age method of making olive-oil, still going strong. She allows a ten-year-old to lead her into the fundamentalist strongholds of the suburbs of Algiers – where she makes a good friend.
The Time In Between
by María Dueñas, 2009
This sweeping novel, which combines the storytelling power of The Shadow of the Wind with the irresistible romance of Casablanca, moves at an unstoppable pace. Suddenly left abandoned and penniless in Morocco by her lover, Sira Quiroga forges a new identity. Against all odds she becomes the most sought-after couture designer for the socialite wives of German Nazi officers. But she is soon embroiled in a dangerous political conspiracy as she passes information to the British Secret Service through a code stitched into the hems of her dresses.
by Laila Lalami, 2009
Youssef el-Mekki, a young man of nineteen, is living with his mother in the slums of Casablanca when he discovers that the father he believed to be dead is, in fact, alive and eager to befriend and support him. Leaving his mother behind, Youssef assumes a life he could only dream of: a famous and influential father, his own penthouse apartment, and all the luxuries associated with his new status. His future appears assured until an abrupt reversal of fortune sends him back to the streets and his childhood friends, where a fringe Islamic group, known simply as the Party, has set up its headquarters.
A Palace In The Old Village
by Tahar Ben Jelloun, 2009
The story of an immigrant named Mohammed who has spent forty years in France and is about to retire. Taking stock of his life- his devotion to Islam and to his assimilated children-he decides to return to Morocco, where he spends his life’s savings building the biggest house in the village and waits for his children and grandchildren to come be with him. A heartbreaking novel about parents and children, A Palace in the Old Village captures the sometimes stark contrasts between old- and new-world values, and an immigrant’s abiding pursuit of home.
by Tahar Ben Jelloun, 2006
Young Moroccans gather regularly in a seafront cafe to gaze at the lights on the Spanish coast glimmering in the distance. A young man called Azel is intent upon leaving one way or another. At the brink of despair he meets Miguel, a wealthy Spanish gallery-owner, who promises to take him to Barcelona if Azel will become his lover.
The Last Storytellers: Tales from the Heart of Morocco
by Richard L Hamilton, 2011
Marrakech is the heart and lifeblood of Morocco’s ancient storytelling tradition. For nearly a thousand years, storytellers have gathered in Jemaa el Fna, the legendary square of the city, to recount ancient folktales and fables to rapt audiences. But this unique chain of oral tradition that has passed seamlessly from generation to generation is teetering on the brink of extinction. The competing distractions of television, movies, and the Internet have drawn the crowds away from the storytellers and few have the desire to learn the stories and continue their legacy. Richard Hamilton has witnessed first-hand the death throes of this rich and captivating tradition and, in the labyrinth of the Marrakech medina, has tracked down the last few remaining storytellers, recording stories that are replete with the mysteries and beauty of the Maghreb.
The Storyteller of Marrakesh
by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, 2011
Each year, the storyteller, Hassan, gathers listeners to the city square to share their recollections of a young, foreign couple who mysteriously disappeared years earlier. As various witnesses describe their encounters with the couple—their tales overlapping, confirming, and contradicting each other—Hassan hopes to light upon details that will explain what happened to them, and to absolve his own brother, who is in prison for their disappearance.
The Sultan’s Wife
by Jane Johnson, 2012
1677. In Europe, the Enlightenment is dawning after a century of wars. On the seas and in coastal villages, pirates and corsairs are the scourge of the waves. And in Morocco, Sultan Moulay Ismail is concentrating his power, building an elaborate palace complex with captive labor.
Alys Swann is also a captive, but hers is a different lot: convert to Islam, marry the sultan and give him sons. Or die. Nus-Nus, the sultan’s scribe and keeper of the royal couching book, is charged with convincing Alys to accept her fate. Or they both die. Two powerless prisoners in a world of brutal intrigue, each discovers that they can take strength in the other, to endure that which must be endured in the hope of a better tomorrow.
by Lawrence Osborne, 2012
In this stylish, haunting novel, journalist and novelist Lawrence Osborne explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of Moroccan Muslims and Western visitors who converge on a luxurious desert villa for a decadent weekend-long party.
David and Jo Henniger, a doctor and children’s book author, in search of an escape from their less than happy lives in London, accept the invitation of their old friends Richard and Dally to attend their annual bacchanal at their home deep in the Moroccan desert – a ksar they have acquired and renovated into a luxurious retreat. On the way, the Hennigers stop for lunch, and the bad-tempered David can’t resist consuming most of a bottle of wine. Back on the road, darkness has descended, David is groggy, and the directions to the ksar are vague. Suddenly, two young men spring from the roadside, apparently attempting to interest passing drivers in the fossils they have for sale. Panicked, David swerves toward the two, leaving one dead on the road and the other running into the hills.
The Moor’s Account
by Laila Lalami, 2014
In 1527, the conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez sailed from the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda with a crew of six hundred men and nearly a hundred horses. His goal was to claim what is now the Gulf Coast of the United States for the Spanish crown and, in the process, become as wealthy and famous as Hernán Cortés.
But from the moment the Narváez expedition landed in Florida, it faced peril—navigational errors, disease, starvation, as well as resistance from indigenous tribes. Within a year there were only four survivors: the expedition’s treasurer, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca; a Spanish nobleman named Alonso del Castillo Maldonado; a young explorer named Andrés Dorantes de Carranza; and Dorantes’s Moroccan slave, Mustafa al-Zamori, whom the three Spaniards called Estebanico. These four survivors would go on to make a journey across America that would transform them from proud conquistadores to humble servants, from fearful outcasts to faith healers.
Note: this story is the tale of a Moroccan slave exploring America, not so much set in Morocco itself.
The Blue Hour
by Douglas Kennedy, 2015
Robin knew Paul wasn’t perfect. But he said they were so lucky to have found each other, and she believed it was true. She is a meticulous accountant, almost forty. He is an artist and university professor, twenty years older. When Paul suggests a month in Morocco, where he once lived and worked, a place where the modern meets the medieval, Robin reluctantly agrees.
Once immersed into the swirling, white hot exotica of a walled city on the North African Atlantic coast, Robin finds herself acclimatizing to its wonderful strangeness. Paul is everything she wants him to be—passionate, talented, knowledgeable. She is convinced that it is here she will finally become pregnant. But then Paul suddenly disappears, and Robin finds herself the prime suspect in the police inquiry.
The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty
by Vendela Vida, 2015
In Vendela Vida’s taut and mesmerizing novel of ideas, a woman travels to Casablanca, Morocco, on mysterious business. Almost immediately, while checking into her hotel, she is robbed, her passport and all identification stolen. The crime is investigated by the police, but the woman feels there is a strange complicity between the hotel staff and the authorities—she knows she’ll never see her possessions again.
What do you think of these books set in Morocco?
Have some great books set in Morocco that I’ve missed? Are you planning a trip to Morocco soon? Are you interested in other books set in Africa? I’d love to hear about more about your travels and tips for books set in Morocco in the comments below!