Recommended Reading List – NCS Morocco Program, June 2007
Below are some highly recommended books to help you maximize your experience in Morocco. If time allows, borrow or purchase a few of these titles before your travels. Many libraries are likely to carry some of these as well. Those marked with an asterisk (*) are particularly recommended.
General / Travel Guides
*Lonely Planet Guide to Morocco
*The Rough Guide to Morocco
History (Arab, North African, and Moroccan)
A History of the Arab Peoples, Albert Hourani (Harvard University Press, 2003). Emeritus Fellow at St. Anthony's College in Oxford, Hourani begins with Islam's rise in the 7th century and carries the rich and imposing story of Arab civilization to the late 1980s. In broad, sweeping strokes, Hourani moves easily from mosque to marketplace, from sultan to imam, from nomad to city-dweller, from Mohammed to Anwar Sadat. He focuses on the Ottoman Empire and on the European colonialism that followed, and concludes with a discussion of the modern resurgence of Islam that offers hope to thousands of Muslims and appears so threatening to Westerners.
Morocco since 1830, C.R. Pennell (C. Hurst, UK/New York University Press, US). This recent paperback, published in 2000, is one of the first general histories of modern Morocco. It covers the major strands of power but also the social and cultural life of ordinary Moroccans while focusing on the various contemporary challenges facing the country.
*The Spider’s House, Paul Bowles, 1955 (Harper Perennial). The dilemma of the outsider in an alien society, and the gap in understanding between cultures, recurrent themes of Paul Bowles's writings, are dramatized with brutal honesty in this novel set in Fez, Morocco, during that country's 1954 nationalist uprising. Totally relevant to today's political situation in the Middle East and elsewhere, richly descriptive of its setting, and uncompromising in its characterizations, The Spider's House is perhaps Bowles's most beautifully subtle novel.
Their Heads are Green and Their Hands are Blue, Paul Bowles, 1963 (Harper Perennial). Bowles, one of the four or five best writers in English in the second half of the twentieth century, embraced the desert as a Christian saint embraces his martyrdom. His self-abnegation and his love of traditional culture made him one of the keenest observers of other civilizations we have ever had in America. Unlike his countrymen he did not brashly set out to improve the rest of the world. For Bowles, Americanization was the problem, not the solution. As these startling, sober travel pieces show, Bowles, because of his powers of negative capability, was able to enter into the inner truth of even the most remote places and peoples (from the Introduction by Edmund White).
For Bread Alone, Mohamed Choukri (IB Tauris/UK). Choukri's classic and moving work—which has already been translated into more than 10 languages—speaks for an entire generation of North Africans. Born in the Rif, Choukri moved with his family to Tangier at a time of great famine. His childhood was spent in abject poverty; eight of his brothers and sisters died of malnutrition or neglect. During his adolescence, he worked for a time as servant to a French family. He then returned to Tangier, where he experienced the violence of the 1952 independence riots. Still illiterate at the age of 20, he made the decision to learn to read and write classical Arabic—a decision that transformed his life. After mastering the language, he became a teacher and writer, and finally was awarded the chair of Arabic Literature at Ibn Batuta College in Tangier.
The Voices of Marrakesh, Elias Canetti (Marion Boyars, UK). A small, compelling volume of impressions of Marrakesh in the last years of French rule by the Noble-prize winning author. The atmosphere of many pieces still holds.
*The World’s Religions, Huston Smith (HarperCollins, 1991). With a new preface and fresh package, this completely revised and updated version of The Religions of Man explores the essential elements and teachings of the world’s predominant faiths, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and the native traditions of the Americas, Australia, Africa, and Oceania. Smith emphasizes the inner – rather than institutional – dimensions of these religions and gives special attention to Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Sufism, and the teachings of Jesus. He convincingly conveys the unique appeal and gifts of each of the traditions and reveals their hold on the human heart and imagination. Students are highly advised to read the section on Islam.
Islam: The Straight Path, John L. Esposito (Oxford University Press, 1998). This exceptionally successful survey text introduces the faith, belief, and practice of Islam from its earliest origins up to its contemporary resurgence. The author, an internationally renowned expert on Islam, traces the development of this dynamic faith and its impact on world history and politics, discussing the formation of Islamic belief and practice (in law, theology, and mysticism) and chronicling the struggle of Muslims to define and adhere to their Islamic way of life. Lucidly written, the third edition of Islam: The Straight Path provides keen insight into one of the world's least understood religions.
Realm of the Saint: Power and Authority in Moroccan Sufism, Vincent J. Cornell, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998). In premodern Moroccan Sufism, sainthood involved not only a closeness to the Divine presence (walaya) but also the exercise of worldly authority (wilaya). The Moroccan Jazuliyya Sufi order used the doctrine that the saint was a "substitute of the prophets" and personification of a universal "Muhammadan Reality" to justify nearly one hundred years of Sufi involvement in Moroccan political life, which led to the creation of the sharifian state. This book presents a systematic history of Moroccan Sufism through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries C.E. and a comprehensive study of Moroccan Sufi doctrine, focusing on the concept of sainthood.
Doing Daily Battle: Interviews with Moroccan Women, Fatima Mernissi, (The Women’s Press, UK/Rutgers University Press, US). Eleven women—carpet weavers, rural and factory workers, teachers—talk about all aspects of their lives, from work to housing to marriage. Unique insight into traditionally private quarters.
*A Street in Marrakech, Elizabeth W. Fernea (Waveland Press, 1988). An American woman anthropologist’s view of Marrakech in 1971-72; it will give you an idea of how much Marrakech has changed, or not, in the last 20 years.
The Mellah Society: Jewish Community Life in Sherifan Morocco, Shlomo Deshen, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989). This is a work that tackles the issue of Jewish identity in a predominantly Muslim country. In his account, Shlomo penetrates Moroccan culture and discusses a variety of key concerns that will give perspective to your experience.
*Class of 2006, PBS, Director Gini Reticker. WIDE ANGLE cameras are on location in Morocco as history is made. In May 2006, an imam academy in the city of Rabat holds a graduation ceremony. But the class of 2006 is no ordinary group of students. Side by side with the male graduates are 50 women pioneers, among the first contemporary group of women to be officially trained as religious leaders in the Arab world. Empowered to do everything that male imams do -- except lead Friday prayer in a mosque -- the women will fan out across Morocco to work as spiritual guides in mosques, schools, hospitals, and prisons, even hosting their own television and radio talk shows.
The Sheltering Sky (1990). Paul Bowles’ novel set to the Big Screen. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and starring John Malkovich and Debra Winger.
Morocco: The Past and the Present of Djemma El Fna, 1995. A short documentary by Steven Montgomery profiling the legendary marketplace in Marrakech, with glimpses of its snake charmers, musicians, and storytellers.
The Wind and The Lion, 1975. In the early 1900s, an American businessman was kidnapped by a rebellious Arab chieftain, principally as a means to embarrass the Sultan of Morocco. This abduction sparked the threat of armed intervention by President Theodore Roosevelt, which was never carried out. In The Wind and the Lion, the unattractive male captive is replaced by the gorgeous female Mrs. Pedecaris, an American widow played by Candice Bergen. The ruthless but essentially decent Arab chief Raisuli is portrayed by Sean Connery, while Teddy Roosevelt is depicted as a jingoistic blowhard by Brian Keith. The film's main theme, that of America's emergence as a world power, is largely secondary to the growing mutual-respect relationship between Mrs. Pedecaris and Raisuli. After releasing his hostage, Raisuli is himself captured by German forces, who at the behest of the Kaiser are seeking out methods of laying the groundwork for what would evolve into World War I. With the help of Mrs. Pedecaris -- and, in long-distance fashion, President Roosevelt -- Raisuli escapes. Director John Milius' screenplay bears little relation to the facts of the matter, but this is forgotten in the light of the film's dynamic action sequences, not to mention the marvelous rapport between its two main stars.
The Rough Guide to the Music of Morocco