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on 8 November 2009
Having lived in colonial India and Pakistan, Peter Mayne having what would be viewed as a "mid life crisis" these days decided to move to Morocco with the intention to make it his permanent home and to fund himself by writing a novel. Whilst it seems the novel never made it to publication, this book is written from his personal journals on life in Marrakesh - trying to live and be accepted by the locals, learn Arabic, make friends and understand life there.

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.
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on 22 April 2016
Read this book after having been in Marrakesh. It was written in the early 50th, not much has changed since then. Very human.
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on 6 April 2006
The writer's year in Marrakesh was not about seeing the sights and learning the history - rather, it was about his engagement with the real people of his neighbourhood as he gets drawn into their lives. A clearer picture than you get from the pompous, passive travel writing that casts an eye on a culture and tells you what to visit there. Thoroughly engaging.
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on 21 May 2003
Alright, so the title of this review is a little disingenuous, but this is a lost gem of leftfield travel writing with more than a little in common with 'beat' authors. Taking the North African hippy trail before it was even established, Mayne (NOT A Year in Provence's Peter Mayle) rented a room in Marrakesh's Medina (old town) with the aim of writing a novel. This novel has not survived but his journal of the time has, and it makes a brilliant read. Funny, self-deprecating, beautifully descriptive and packed with pungent characterization (but without any syncophantic obsession with his locale - Mayne loves his environs and Moroccan friends but that does not stem criticism if he feels it deserved).
I cannot recommend this enough. For anyone with any interest in travel, North Africa, Kerouac's On the Road, Hunter S Thompson or a good tale well told.
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VINE VOICEon 21 September 2010
Of all the modern travel books for Morocco I have to say this is one of the best. The author spent a year in Marrakesh renting a room (And a very small one at that) In the city and immersing himself with the sights and sounds of the city. He is never arrogant in his writings and simply tells things as he sees them. He appears to make friends quickly and has a small group of Moroccan friends (Both male and female) Who are only too happy to show him around, help him learn Arabic and even pop in and cook for him if need be (Including at times borrow money from him for things like amulets to ward off the evil eye put on them). He also keeps in touch with some of the ex-pats in the city (Mostly French or at least French speakers) The book is pretty much his day to day life and is almost in diary form in the way it comes across, the author simply puts to paper his experiences which can at times be a little dry.

All in all I enjoyed the book though its a little short on anything to get you really interested in. I read it after having been to Morocco a few times and having an interest in travel literature about the place. I dont think I would really recommend it to someone who has never been because it was written some time ago its probably better suited to someone who is already there or has been there at least once because its more of a book where the author shares his feelings about his experiences and you can either agree and disagree than something you can pick up and inspire you to visit. For that I would probably recommend the books of Meakin although written over a century ago just capture the imagination in a way that I didn't feel this book did.
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Firstly, people who have criticised this book for being in some way 'imperialist' etc, are taking themselves too seriously. The book was written in the 1950s and as such some of the nomenclature (e.g. the spelling of Marrakesh or the use of the word 'Moor' to describe North African Muslims) is jarring to the politically correct modern reader but this is nothing more than anachronistic nomenclature.

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.
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on 2 October 2013
I very much enjoyed this sensitive and personal description of life within the Medina’s ramparts as much for Peter’s authentic writing style unfettered by hyperbole as for his all-or-nothing approach to travel. While trying to look after himself and his writing, the writer intuitively empathises with the perspectives of the locals (perhaps helped by having lived in Pakistan) without being directive to the reader, and most of the cultural insights seem to be relevant still today. When the book ended, it felt like a sad parting of a friend left behind in Marrakesh, and what a journey it’s been! The hopes, ambiguities and minor setbacks of adapting to a new country, viewed in the black-and-white romanticism of yesteryear.

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.
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on 22 February 2015
I was trying to find a book that would give me the feel of Marrakech, and despite its age, this one was recommended. However I did not get a sense of place from it, I felt that it was more about the character of the 'Moor' ( his description, not mine and I found Mayne to be patronising at times but that may be a result of the era) and a variety of other French residents. It is unusual for me not to finish a book, but after reading half of this I lost the will to carry on.
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on 2 December 2013
A lovely account of life in the old centre of Marrakesh in the 1950s. While the geography of the place probably hasn't changed much since then, most of the characters and traditions are snapshots from history - but there are still snake charmers in the main square and storks' nests on the city walls. The book won't mean much unless you've been to Marrakesh. I had the good fortune to read it while I was there.
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on 30 April 2012
Before going to Marrakech for the first time for a week in April 2012 this was an interesting and useful insight into Marrakech life of the time although much changed today by tourism and new technology !
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