Book Review: A powerful collection about a never-before-seen side of Marrakech

A powerful collection about a never-before-seen side of Marrakech. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 October 2018

Book Review: A powerful collection about a never-before-seen side of Marrakech

CHICAGO: This year’s noir anthology from Akashic Books takes us to Marrakech, Morocco, the first North African city to share its dark tales translated from Arabic, French and Dutch into English for the award-winning series. Each story focuses on a specific neighborhood, with its mysteries and allures, as “Marrakech Noir” and its 15 contributing authors delve into the city, its religious and cultural hues, its tourist attractions, its story-telling haven at Jemaa el-Fnaa, and its shadowy, less attractive corners.

Edited by Yassin Adnan, this powerful collection of diverse and unique tales dives into a Marrakech mostly unknown by outsiders. The stories paint an in-depth portrait of a city and traverse the spectrum of emotions, from joyful to sadistic. Known as “The Red City” and “The Joyful City” since the time of the Almoravid leader Yusuf bin Tashfin, Adnan says in his introduction that Marrakech does not necessarily associate with noir: “Marrakechis can invent colorful stories to avoid the darkness of reality.”

In this collection, however, the contributors took on the challenge to take readers on a journey through old and invented crimes committed in the ancient city and modern neighborhoods.

The book begins with an innovative tale called “The Mysterious Painting” by Fouad Laroui. It takes place in Bab Doukkala and follows a police chief who has recently moved to Marrakech from Safi. Following the same routine daily, he sits in the restaurant he frequents every day for lunch and notices a painting hanging in front of him. This painting takes him and readers on a journey through Marrakech, its people, and history.

As the book moves forward, the stories take us to Derb Sidi Bouloukat and Marrakech’s love for cinema, into the future when oil is extracted from Mars, to discrimination against immigrants, to a potter whose sculptures take hold of their owners.

The stories lead readers through a never-seen-before Marrakech, brimming with nostalgia and the sense of attachment each of the authors have to the city and its history.


Author Laila Lalami is a phenomenal storyteller in ‘The Other Americans’

Updated 19 October 2020

Author Laila Lalami is a phenomenal storyteller in ‘The Other Americans’

CHICAGO: Floating along on the Santa Ana winds into the Mojave Desert is award-winning author Laila Lalami’s “The Other Americans,” a novel in which a Moroccan-American family attempts to move forward with life when tragedy strikes and harmful secrets begin to unravel. Driss Guerraoui, an American originally from Casablanca, Morocco, is killed in a hit-and-run one night after locking up his diner. His wife, Maryam, and daughters, Salma and Nora, are left to deal with his affairs after his death, each coping with the event and its aftermath in their own way. 

When we meet the Guerraouis, they’ve already achieved their American Dream. After moving from Morocco to California, setting up a successful diner and standing on their own feet, the family should be living without worry, but that isn’t the case. It turns out that the American Dream is not the end of the road, that their surname is too difficult to pronounce, Nora’s Moroccan eggplant lunch doesn’t look right to her kindergarten classmates and their presence in the country is problematic to certain people. After September 11, their first business, Aladdin’s Donuts, is burned to the ground. Despite the trouble, Driss and Maryam continue to work hard and their children continue to propel themselves forward in pursuit of a bright future, but the road isn’t easy. 

Moving between characters, from Nora, his youngest daughter, to Maryam, his widow, the police officer who went to school with the victim’s daughter, the detective working the case and the undocumented witness to the death, first-person narratives account for the connection between the lives that are caught up in the tragedy. From snippets of their lives in Casablanca to their future in California, readers get a sense of the Guerraouis. They had left Morocco to escape trouble and found it in California anyway. 

Lalami is a phenomenal storyteller, her characters and prose paced and insightful as she delves into complex yet ordinary characters who come from different backgrounds. She deals with prejudice and Islamophobia, the treatment of veterans and being forced to grow up too fast. Her novel deals with the struggles of being undocumented and financial constraints. And she does not shy away from difficult situations, laying bare that life is complicated but must go on.