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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Endangered Stories, 13 July 2011
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`The Last Storytellers' is a book that puts into print stories from the Moroccan tradition of oral storytelling which goes back almost a thousand years and is now in danger of becoming extinct. Assisted by his guide, Ahmed Tija, Richard Hamilton, the BBC's Moroccan correspondent, sought out in Marrakech five authentic storytellers. Typically they are men who followed what they saw as their fate despite the disapproval of orthodox Islam and opposition from their families, who regarded storytelling as little better than begging.

The last storytellers may be aged, poor and frail, but their stories are rich in detail and full of vitality. In his excellent introduction Richard Hamilton tells of some of their accomplishments. One learned most of the Old Testament and all of `One Thousand and One Nights'. Another studies classical Arabic texts at night and recites them next day in Darija, the dialect his listeners can understand. The youngest, who was born into an extremely poor family and had to leave school so that he could help his father at work, is exceptionally well read and can introduce material from Cervantes or Jorge Luis Borges into his tales. The oldest, going deaf and already blind, remembers when, during the time of the French Protectorate, storytellers, speaking in the Berber language, used stories to pass messages to one another in code.

Since the men who tell them are no strangers to poverty and oppression, it is not surprising that these thirty-seven stories show sympathy with the underdog and a subversive glee when he succeeds where others have failed. Sons of black slaves inherit a kingdom and marry a Sultan's daughter; respected magistrates turn out to be crooks; barbers are promoted to the rank of Vizier; and a Sultan sacks all his sycophantic viziers because none will tell him the truth.

This is a very entertaining collection and a book I intend to keep. To write this review I read the stories more quickly than I would have liked; but I hope to return and read them at a more leisurely pace. All good stories have depths which do not reveal themselves immediately, and these are no exception. Richard Hamilton has done us all a service in recording what he describes as `a priceless treasure, as precious as mankind's greatest artefact or the planet's most endangered species, and of immeasurable importance to humanity.'
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling read, 30 Aug 2011
Enthralling.
Richard Hamilton has captured the essence and atmosphere of Marrakech's ancient oral storytelling tradition perfectly. In doing this he has preserved one of Morocco's greatest pieces of heritage that has already all but disappeared due to the numbing qualities of today's mass media. Since the arrival of the television to most homes, chairs in social areas are no longer arranged to encourage conversation and the art of the storyteller's profession is becoming forgotten. These fairytale stories, like many old European or Arabian fables, nearly always contain a subtle moral message so that the listener is not only entertained, but educated. What I have learned from reading Hamilton's book is the importance of appreciating that something as simple as a story is integral to our understanding of the world we live in. As Hamilton postulates, our lives are nothing more than a series of stories, therefore it is imperative that we appreciate that these stories, which have survived for more than a thousand years, are certainly not something to dismiss. Beautifully written, Hamilton's book encourages you to read these stories aloud to friends and family, or even strangers, and see just a fraction of the joy they and their storyteller's have brought to the world.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect book to read in Marrakech, 5 Jun 2012
I took this book with me when I went to Marrakech recently. It was the perfect read. Being there is magical and there is so much as a tourist you cannot understand, but the place makes much more sense when you read this book. It is easy to read, to dip in and out of - while having a mint tea in a cafe, as you sit in your riad or as you sit around the J'maa el Fna as the sun sets. A nice read in London, but a perfect read in situ. If you are going to Marrakech, buy this book to take with you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 17 April 2012
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Well-written and entertaining, the book contains several individual evocative and spell-binding tales. A thoroughly good read, especially whilst you're in Morocco.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gem of a Book, 1 Feb 2012
This really is a gem of a book. The introduction has been thoroughly researched and serves as a perfect overture to what is to come. It tells the reader about the wider history of storytelling and then it goes on to discuss the background to the storytellers, whose tales have been recorded and immortalised by Richard Hamilton. Hamilton thus sets the scene beautifully, guiding the reader gently into the world of Fakirs and Imams, Shoemakers and Devils. Reading this book reminded me of the many hours I spent as a child reading, and re-reading my Arabian Nights collection. Every time one opens the book, a new adventure is waiting to be absorbed. But these stories are not really for children - there are stories of cunning and comeuppance, but there are also tales of passion and adultery, gouging and torture. Hamilton's clear and measured style belies the gargantuan task behind the work. Many, many hours of research, recording and meticulous translation work have clearly gone into this book. It is not only a great read, but a real treasure. Through the preservation of these stories and the world from which they come, Hamilton has provided a great service to Moroccan and indeed to global culture. Most importantly he has written a highly enjoyable, entertaining and unusual book. I loved it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful tales from Morocco, 25 Aug 2011
Wonderfully evocative read - had me pining for the scents and sounds of Jemaa el F'naa! Hamilton's excellent introduction contextualises a beautiful series of short stories, gleaned from interviews with Marrakech's dwindling fraternity of storytellers. Highly recommended for anyone with a love of Morocco and North Africa.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars varied and very interesting stories, 1 Nov 2011
loved the book. the stories were so diverse and they give you a sense of Moroccan culture and oral storytelling. some as short as a page, women's roles are interesting, all of them quite entertaining with an occasional quite weird story in the mix. really glad I bought the book and will re-read it soon.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a wonderful book!, 27 Oct 2011
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What a wonderful book, and thank you for it! Having seen, but not been able to understand the storytellers in Morocco, this gave me a feel for some of the traditional tales. I'm so happy I bought it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless Treasure Trove, 12 Sep 2011
I know nothing about modern-day Morocco or North Africa, but this gem of a book, while retaining an entirely authentic local feel, has a universal appeal and a timeless charm. The spoken traditional stories -- of sultans and shepherds, hunchbacks and virgin horsewomen -- are as full of subtle and comic twists as they are of profound truths. They have been rendered into simple but elegant written English, enlivened by convincing dialogue and splashes of dazzling colour. Whatever your age and wherever you're from, put away your smart phones, play stations and travel brochures and buy this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Storytellers, 21 Aug 2011
This enthralling book transports you to the Djemaa El-Fna square in Marrakesh, at the heart of Morocco's fast disappearing storytelling tradition. Richard Hamilton has gone to great lengths to speak to the few storytellers who are still living in order to collect a wonderful mix of stories. The subjects range from poor men finding wealth and marriage to beautiful princesses, to angry djinns, to unfaithful and greedy rulers getting their comeuppance. There's something for everyone, old and young, in these enchanting fables. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I'm sure you will too.
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