Michael Palin classes this book by Peter Mayne as one of his top ten books so you would assume it would be a natural pick before travelling to Marrakesh.
Why is Peter Mayne’s Marrakesh Worth Reading
This is more than just a novel, it’s a journal of Peter Mayne’s time in Marrakesh. Settling into the heart of a community that live for simple pleasures and friendship rather than materialistic goods, the back streets are the basis for this novel. You begin to appreciate the comforts that we have become so accustomed, where we class them as necessity these individuals see them as a luxury. Running water and a toilet that flushes are expected in the modern world and yet these just are not present in Derb esh-Shems where Peter has rented his first house. Instead there is the expectation that you will collect your water each day from the local fountains and visit the hammam for a weekly wash. Even this is not straight forward, as a non-Muslim being accepted into the community is one thing, being accepted into a hammam by the mul-l-hammam is quite another.
Unperturbed by the basic living Peter throws himself into becoming a Marrkeshi local. Learning Arabic would be daunting for the majority of people and yet he sets out to become fluent in both this as well as improve his French further so that he can converse fully with people. Whilst the people of Marrakesh are friendly, acceptance is entirely different and it takes several months, with the support of a few friends to become known as a person who is to stay.
The Café de France becomes one of the main settings in this novel along with the Djema’a el-Fna. Descriptions of the people that frequent both places are colourful; snake charmers, story tellers and physicians – all mastering their trade in front of unassuming tourists looking for something different to tell their friends about when they return home. Customs are explained that non-Muslims visiting may not even be aware of; the lack of females in the cafes, the small sign above the bars prohibiting the selling of alcohol to Muslims albeit loosely followed and the expectation that after every conversation where a promise is made the words Insha’ Allah should follow.
Without drink or modern entertainment to keep people amused in the evenings social events are frequent. From the informal meetings to the parties arranged either by a group of people that have adopted Marrakesh or Marrkeshis themselves this seems to be the tell-tale sign that you have been accepted.
Our Thoughts on Marrakesh by Peter Mayne
This is a novel about approval from others and finding oneself, it is not a guide book and should be read from the outset with that in mind. If you are after a novel that will explain to you the wonders of the sights this is not for you; if you are however, interested in finding out about the life of a Marrakeshi and the culture they have adopted you will wholeheartedly enjoy reading this. You also need to remember that this book was written back in the 1950’s and whilst many aspects remain the same, modern desires for comfort have reach the Medina Ramparts.