Top critical review
Story within a story within a story, and still searching...
on 2 October 2013
In searching for his story, Tahir Shah produces a pretty formidable and unusual volume on the tradition of storytelling in Morocco interwoven by the tensions of his family's adjustment to life in Fes and the spiritual goings-on in Dar Kalifa. His writing is intelligent and highly descriptive, but misses the mark a little. At one point, I was really quite drawn into the story after an initial difficulty, while toward the end, I drifted a while. In all, I felt the book was a real achievement, and niggling to me, I should've liked it more!
First, we have a unique theme for a book (storytelling) which was, in theory, an ingenious vehicle for transmitting the essence of Morocco that one may wish from a current travel book - I definitely learned something of Morocco's past AND present in reading it. Tahir makes intelligent and deep observations, and is a likeable character (though at times submitting too much to his servants, I felt!). However, sometimes the traditional stories told just left me hanging there - Without some cultural commentary, I wasn't sure what to take from many of the stories, and there's only so much dangling one can take before you decide you don't want to climb again.
I think possibly the book's sheer intensity overall combined with repeated splicing and cuts back to a former scene or story made it a little hard going (and a bit too clever for itself) for me on more than one occasion. It might've benefited from more `...'s and new paragraphs to elicit a sense of paced timing at times. Also, I felt there was some repetitiveness in the `tell' and `sell' of traditional storytelling later on. I definitely appreciate the meaning-making of a good old-fashioned story and the finding of one's own story resonates with me too, but I fear the book tried to be too many things just slightly and left me with many forgettable stories in a mystical house. Perhaps a more attractive book to those inclined toward more fantasy-style stories where characters loom slightly larger than life.