A Year in Marrakesh Paperback – 30 Oct 2002
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"I know of no other book that paints such an endearing portrait of life among Muslims. The author's warmth and humanity illuminate every page, and to keep the ball rolling, it is deliciously witty. A classic."
--The Week, 8 August 2009
Michael Palin picks A YEAR IN MARRAKESH by Peter Mayle as one of his top ten books. One of those travel classics in the Englishman (of some means) abroad vein, this shows a great deal of sensitivity to both Morocco and Marrakesh a country and city I love, too. Rather like Jan Morriss book on Venice, this takes relish in the place, and the life of the place, looking underneath the surface veneer. Its not so much a guide to the sights as the story of Maynes year there, the people he met and the problems of living there. The book is exquisitely written, it strikes just the right note throughout, and whenever I read it, I want to rush off there again. --The Mail on Sunday, 9 January 2011
About the Author
Peter Mayne was born in England in 1908. At the age of twenty he went out to India, where his father was a serior member of the Department of Education. For a while he worked as a mercantile assistant in a firm of merchant-shippers, but he was never a successful businessman. At the time of Partition, the Pakistan Government invited him to serve as Deputy Secretary to the Ministry of Refugees and Rehabilitation. When the tension died down, he resigned from government service and settled in Morocco to write his first book. He died in 1979.See all Product description
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Clearly, the writer himself is a bit of an outsider so finds himself at home here to a large degree, and perhaps I liked the book so much because I could relate to this characteristic. This book completely appeals to the side of me that revels in making nuanced cultural and anthropological observations, and dealing with ‘hardships’ such as a lack of running water with generally little complaint. He is generally unperturbed by setbacks because he knows that these are inevitable. Sometimes it was hard to work out what was going on in various situations he is sucked into, which is probably exactly how it felt for him at the time, occasionally to bemusing effect. I also found his character to be refreshingly liberal for his era and generally remarkably non-judgemental, believing in cultural (and moral) relativity (as is found to help if you are to see things for what they truly are).
On the other hand, I imagine you wouldn’t enjoy this book if you felt that a meandering memoir of daily humdrum among an array of semi-minor characters (and fowl) in the Medina sounded boring and pointless. There isn’t much manufacturing of a plot running through the story, but that is part of its authenticity to me. Also, the text is punctured with French and Arabic at times, and it may be frustrating if you do not understand any French, while a little French comprehension will certainly add a little sparkle. A minor point is that there are many characters presented – and if you have long breaks in the book, it can be easy to forget who is who, particularly the small swathe of minor characters (while a few are intriguing and difficult to place, as I sense Peter also felt).
This is the ideal slim volume to accompany you on a trip to Marrakech (the Medina, Cafe de France etc.), and just as fine reading after you’ve returned when you wish you’d had a longer trip to get under the skin of the city. The book guarantees a lower hassle-factor and appeals completely to the adventurous armchair slow-traveller within.
In fact, Peter Mayne treats all the people he encounters in his year in Marrakesh with straightforward, honest humanity. What I particularly liked about this book is that Mayne's story isn't that of a wealthy baby-boomer playing at 'finding themselves' by buying-up a Riad in which to semi-retire (see Cinnamon City) or a pretentious hippy or gap-yar student out to 'find themselves'. He's just an ordinary person from one part of the world living an ordinary life amongst ordinary people in another part of the world.
The prose completely lacks gushing melodrama or flowery descriptions but the people it paints are all the more authentic, and attractive in their flaws, because of that.
Mayne was in Marrakesh in the late 1950's but the book almost seems as if it could have been written recently. I have not been to Morocco but had no trouble imaging myself there. As someone who has gone through the challenges (and delights) of living in a country other than my own and learning a foreign language I really appreciated the book from that perspective. He allows himself to try and understand the place and the people - warts and all - without being judgemental. His style in the book is summed up in his reflections on his friends as he prepares to leave Marrakesh: "All these lovable, good people who would be surprised to be called anything of the sort. They, who have never gone away - how should they know what parting means, that it means dying a little."
The text includes Arabic and French which adds to the flavour and that feeling of not understanding. I suspect if I remembered more French I could have enjoyed it even more. Mayne does a good job of allowing you to follow the theme even though you don't understand all the words rather than simply translating everything.
Very enjoyable. I thoroughly recommend it.