I’ve put together a list of books I think anyone considering life in Morocco should check out. It’s eclectic and not all inclusive, but I think it covers a fair range of ideas, concepts, history, and culture. Morocco can be a daunting place to travel whether you are a solo traveler, a female traveler, traveling in a group, or traveling with a family – the catch is that it is also a magnificent place to spend a holiday. Especially if you have more information than lies on the surface.
The Private World of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergeby Robert Murphy
As he did with fashion, Yves seized at one moment in time, a taste that was in the air, only to show his mastery. During the 1970s exoticism and Marrakech were currents in the air and St. Laurent became the authority. He was interested in Art Deco before it became fashionable, even before Andy Warhol and Karl Lagerfeld . . . St Laurent’s and Bergé’s taste is an expression of a culture and is always a story. When they decorated a house it was no longer an ordinary house: it became a story to tell.
Morocco Eyewitness Travel Guide from DK Publishing
With over 900 full-color photographs, tips on public transportation, and detailed lists of hotels and restaurants, Eyewitness Travel Guides: Morrocco provides a wealth of informaton on this North African treasure.
A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco by Suzanna Clark.
While vacationing in Morocco, Suzanna Clarke and her husband, Sandy, are inspired to buy a dilapidated, centuries-old riad in Fez with the aim of restoring it to its original splendor, using only traditional craftsmen and handmade materials. So begins a remarkable adventure that is bewildering, at times hilarious, and ultimately immensely rewarding.
A House in Fez chronicles their meticulous restoration, but it is also a journey into Moroccan customs and lore and a window into the lives of its people as friendships blossom. When the riad is finally returned to its former glory, Suzanna finds she has not just restored an old house, but also her soul.
Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia by Clifford Geertz.
“In four brief chapters,” writes Clifford Geertz in his preface, “I have attempted both to lay out a general framework for the comparative analysis of religion and to apply it to a study of the development of a supposedly single creed, Islam, in two quite contrasting civilizations, the Indonesian and the Moroccan.”
Mr. Geertz begins his argument by outlining the problem conceptually and providing an overview of the two countries. He then traces the evolution of their classical religious styles which, with disparate settings and unique histories, produced strikingly different spiritual climates. So in Morocco, the Islamic conception of life came to mean activism, moralism, and intense individuality, while in Indonesia the same concept emphasized aestheticism, inwardness, and the radical dissolution of personality. In order to assess the significance of these interesting developments, Mr. Geertz sets forth a series of theoretical observations concerning the social role of religion.
Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan by Vincent Crapanzano
Tuhami is an illiterate Moroccan tilemaker who believes himself married to a camel-footed she-demon. A master of magic and a superb story-teller, Tuhami lives in a dank, windowless hovel near the kiln where he works. Nightly he suffers visitations from the demons and saints who haunt his life, and he seeks, with crippling ambivalence, liberation from ‘A’isha Qandisha, the she-demon.
In a sensitive and bold experiment in interpretive ethnography, Crapanzano presents Tuhami’s bizarre account of himself and his world. In so doing, Crapanzano draws on phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and symbolism to reflect upon the nature of reality and truth and to probe the limits of anthropology itself. Tuhami has become one of the most important and widely cited representatives of a new understanding of the whole discipline of anthropology.
Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam by Mark LeVine
With a jolting arrangement of images and voices, LeVine powerfully upends received notions about the Middle East by exploring one of the area’s least-known subcultures. Interviewing and jamming with musicians from Morocco to Pakistan—including rappers and trip-hop artists as well as metalheads—LeVine (Why They Don’t Hate Us) presents Muslims, Christians and Jews who, in the face of corruption, repression and violence, use their music to speak truth to power and carve out a space for individual expression and a new form of community. The degree of independence the musicians enjoy varies widely—from Israeli band Orphaned Land who are free of restrictions (and widely admired in the Arab metal world) to Egyptian metalheads who fear arrest and possible torture for sporting long hair. Each artist in this book struggles, on some level, for cultural and political reform, and LeVine argues that if these musicians could find a way to cooperate with progressive religious activists and the working class, they could trigger a revolution. This is a tall order, but the author’s warm and intelligent examination of a reality few in the West have experienced suggests it may yet be possible.
Living in Morocco by Barbara Stoeltie
More a book on Moroccan luxury style than on life in Morocco, still this book is filled with beautiful pictures and some surprising insights.
Disorienting Encounters: Travels of a Moroccan Scholar in France in 1845-1846. The Voyage of Muhammad As-Saffar by Muhammad As-Saffar
In December of 1845, Muhammad as-Saffar was sent by the reigning Moroccan sultan on a special diplomatic mission to Paris. During the journey, as-Saffar took careful notes and upon his return he hurriedly wrote this travel account.
Why was the sultan, descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, and head of a dynasty that had ruled Morocco for more than two hundred years, so eager to read this account? Perhaps he thought it would illuminate some troubling matters: how the French acquired their power and their mastery over nature; how they led their daily lives, educated their children, treated their women and servants. In short, the sultan wanted to know the condition of French civilization and why it differed from his. As-Saffar provided the answers.
Moreover, as we read the account, Muhammad as-Saffar comes alive for us. We see him reflecting on the beauty of women, contorting during his ritual ablutions, and suffering from boredom at endless dinners. His opinions and ideas infuse every page. For him the journey was more than a catalog of curiosities; it was a transforming experience. Given our very limited knowledge of the time and the absence of other voices that speak with equal clarity, this travel account enlarges our understanding of the relationship between nineteenth-century Morocco and France.
Traveling Spirit Masters: Moroccan Gnawa Trance and Music in the Global Marketplace by Deborah Kapchan
A group of ritual musicians and former slaves brought from sub-Saharan Africa to Morocco, the Gnawa heal those they believe to be possessed, using incense, music, and trance. But their practice is hardly of only local interest: the Gnawa have long participated in the world music market through collaborations with African-American jazz musicians and French recording artists. In this first book in English on Gnawa music and its global reach, author Deborah Kapchan explores how these collaborations transfigure racial and musical identities on both sides of the Atlantic. She also addresses how aesthetic styles associated with the sacred come to inhabit non-sacred contexts, and what new amalgams they produce. Her narrative details the fascinating intrinsic properties of trance, including details of enactment, the role of gesture and the body, and the use of the senses, and how they both construct authentic Gnawa identity and reconstruct historically determined relations of power. Traveling Spirit Masters is a captivating and elucidating demonstration of how and why trance–and indeed all sacred music–is fast becoming a transnational sensation.
We Share Walls: Language, Land, and Gender in Berber Morocco by Katherine E. Huffman
An excellent in-depth study of the gender and language dynamics in Berber communities. A highly readable and timely addition to the emerging and promising scholarship on language, gender and women in Morocco.
In and Out of Morocco: Smuggling and Migration in a Frontier Boomtown by David McMurray.
Every summer for almost forty years, tens of thousands of Moroccan emigrants from as far away as Norway and Germany have descended on the duty-free smugglers’ cove/migrant frontier boomtown of Nador, Morocco. David McMurray investigates the local effects of the multiple linkages between Nador and international commodity circuits, and analyzes the profound effect on everyday life of the free flow of bodies, ideas, and commodities into and out of the region.
Combining immigration and population statistics with street-level ethnography, In and Out of Morocco covers a wide range of topics, including the origin and nature of immigrant nostalgia, the historical evolution of the music of migration in the region, and the influence of migrant wealth on social distinctions in Nador. Groundbreaking in its attention to the performative aspects of life in a smuggling border zone, the book also analyzes the way in which both migration and smuggling have affected local structures of feeling by contributing to the spread of hyperconsumption. The result is a rare and revealing inquiry into how the global culture is lived locally.
David A. McMurray is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Oregon in Corvallis.
Searching for a Different Future: The Rise of a Global Middle Class in Morocco by Shana Cohen
By examining how neoliberal economic reform policies have affected educated young adults in contemporary Morocco, Searching for a Different Future posits a new socioeconomic formation: the global middle class. During Morocco’s postcolonial period, from the 1950s through the 1970s, development policy and nationalist ideology supported the formation of a middle class based on the pursuit of education, employment, and material security. Neoliberal reforms adopted by Morocco since the early 1980s have significantly eroded the capacity of the state to nurture the middle class, and unemployment and temporary employment among educated adults has grown. There is no longer an obvious correlation between the best interests of the state and those of the middle-class worker. As Shana Cohen demonstrates, educated young adults in Morocco do not look toward the state for economic security and fulfillment but toward the diffuse, amorphous global market.
Cohen delves into the rupture that has occurred between the middle class, the individual, and the nation in Morocco and elsewhere around the world. Combining institutional economic analysis with cultural theory and ethnographic observation including interviews with seventy young adults in Casablanca and Rabat, she reveals how young, urban, educated Moroccans conceive of their material, social, and political conditions. She finds that, for the most part, they perceive improvement in their economic and social welfare apart from the types of civic participation commonly connected with nationalism and national identity. In answering classic sociological questions about how the evolution of capitalism influences identity, Cohen sheds new light on the measurable social and economic consequences of globalization and on its less tangible effects on individuals’ perception of their place in society and prospects in life.
Morocco since 1830: A History by C.R. Pennell
The first general history in English of Morocco in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Morocco since 1830: A History explores the profound changes that have affected social relations in Morocco over the last 150 years, especially those between the sexes, and between linguistic identities and cultures.
Although the country has returned to roughly its pre-colonial boundaries, Morocco still suffers from the effects of colonization by France and Spain. Its current king, like the sultans of the nineteenth century, claims legitimacy through his leadership of the Islamic community, but there is a long tradition of dissent based on Islamic ideals. Morocco’s history is also marked by the enduring presence of a large Jewish community.
This comprehensive portrait examines the tactics used by Moroccan rulers to cope with European penetration in the nineteenth century and colonialism in the twentieth, and, since the 1950s, to retain control of the independent state. As Pennell points out, however, the ruling dynasty is not sufficiently representative of modern Morocco, nor are political events the only influence on change. Most Moroccans are still poor, and their lives are shaped by their economic circumstances. The influence of harvests, access to land and water, and external trade have always determined the fate of the majority.
Nothing Is True – Everything Is Permitted: The Life of Brion Gysin by John Geiger
The multimedia artist, poet and novelist Brion Gysin may be the most influential cultural figure of the twentieth century that most people have never heard of.
Gysin (1916–1986) was an English-born, Canadian-raised, naturalized American of Swiss descent, who lived most of his life in Morocco and France. He went everywhere when the going was good. He dabbled with surrealism in Paris in the 1930s, lived in the “interzone” of Tangier in the 1950s and traveled the Algerian Sahara with Sheltering Sky author Paul Bowles before moving into the legendary Beat Hotel in Paris.
Gysin’s ideas influenced generations of artists, musicians and writers, among them David Bowie, Keith Haring, Patti Smith, Michael Stipe, Genesis P-Orridge, John Giorno and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. None was touched more profoundly than William S. Burroughs, who said admiringly of Gysin: “There was something dangerous about what he was doing.”
It was Gysin who introduced the Rolling Stones to the exotica of Morocco and took Stones’ guitarist Brian Jones to Jajouka where he recorded the tribal musicians performing the Pipes of Pan. It was Gysin who provided the hashish fudge recipe published in Alice B. Toklas’ cookbook, promising “ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes.” It was Gysin who introduced Burroughs to an automatic writing method called the cut-up, a literary progenitor to sampling. And it was Gysin who developed—with Ian Sommerville, the Dream Machine—a device that allowed people, with the flick of a switch, to access altered states of consciousness without drugs.
Working with the authorization of Gysin’s literary executor, William S. Burroughs, John Geiger has produced the first-ever biography of the painter, poet, piper Brion Gysin.
Colonial Affairs: Bowles, Burroughs, and Chester Write Tangier by Greg Mullins
A North African port city that was home to as many Europeans as Moroccans, postwar Tangier was truly an international zone, a place where the familiar boundaries of language, culture, nationality, and sexuality blurred, and anything seemed possible. In the 1950s and 1960s three leading American writers settled in Tangier, where they were able to find critical new ways of living and writing on the margins of society. A subtle literary portrait of Paul Bowles, William S. Burroughs, and Alfred Chester, Colonial Affairs is also a complex and perceptive account of the ways colonialism and sexuality structure each other, particularly as reflected in the literature written in postwar Tangier.
Sexual commerce and culture flourished in Tangier during these years, as gay expatriates fled repressive sexual norms at home. Greg Mullins explores the covert and overt representations of sex, fantasy, desire, and sexual identity in the literature of Bowles, Burroughs, Chester, and Moroccan authors who collaborated with Bowles. He argues that expatriate writing in Tangier articulates the desire to exceed national and other forms of identity through representations of sex, especially marginalized forms of sex and sexuality. The literature that emerges variously celebrates, critiques, and attempts to evade the double bind of colonial sexuality.
Framed in relation to queer and postcolonial theory, Mullins’s work is grounded in contemporary debates about sex, race, and desire. His sophisticated yet nimble analysis establishes beyond any doubt the central importance of colonialism and sexuality in the fiction of these writers working at once at the center and the margins of tradition-and reveals to contemporary readers the queer angles of their distinctly original work.
For another great list of books go to