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Traveler’s Itch

I’m so ready to go to Morocco, it’s been far too long since I’ve gone overseas and I really just can’t wait! I found a great list of travel books on National Geographic Traveler to tide me over!

  • Arabian Sands, by Wilfred Thesiger (1959). Simply said, a classic. Thesiger journeyed among the nomadic camel-breeding peoples of southern Arabia, fell in love with the desert and the Bedouin, and wrote a rich account of his experiences.
  • City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, by William Dalrymple (1993). Although Dalrymple spent only 12 months in Delhi, his tour covers some 3,000 years—from the ancient (temples, palaces, despots) to curses of the modern (ubiquitous pigeons and insane taxi drivers). Part archaeological dig, part travelogue, this book is equal parts authoritative and fun, as is his In Xanadu.
  • The Eighth Continent: Life, Death, and Discovery in the Lost World of Madagascar, by Peter Tyson (2000). Tyson writes of an isolated island—the world’s fourth largest—that is rich in flora and fauna but threatened by ecological devastation.
  • Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey, by Alison Wearing (2000). When Wearing decided to travel through Iran with a male companion—in the guise of a honeymooning couple—she raised a few eyebrows. She also blasted through Western notions of Iran as an anti-American warren of fanatical repression to reveal, instead, a place of compassionate, philosophical people. More cause for the raising of eyebrows in light of recent headlines?
  • In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler’s Tale, by Amitav Ghosh (1993). Indian author Ghosh moved to the Egyptian farming village of Lataifa and became engrossed in the history of an Indian slave in 12th-century Egypt. Through this exploration, Ghosh shares keen insights on ancient Muslim traditions and the modern Egyptian identity.
  • Looking for Lovedu: Days and Nights in Africa, by Ann Jones (2001). At the beginning of this axle-smashing road-trip tale is a map depicting Jones’s insane route from Tangier to Cape Town, which she undertook in a blue 1980 Land Rover. Her mission was to find the Lovedu people (a tribe guided by “feminine” principles), which she accomplishes in this eye-popping adventure tale.

  • Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea, by Eric Hansen (1991). Ten years after he was shipwrecked on an island in the Red Sea and rescued by goat smugglers from Eritrea, wily Hansen returns to Yemen in search of journals he buried in the sand. This book is everything travel writing should be: insightful, personal, informative, and entertaining.
  • Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer (1953). In 1943, German mountain climber Heinrich Harrer—no, not Brad Pitt, as in the film—escaped captivity in India and headed across Himalayan passes to the Forbidden City of Lhasa in Tibet, where he became friends with the 14-year-old Dalai Lama. This book truly captures mystical pre-Chinese-invasion Tibet.

I think that a trip to the library is in line today because I want to read about all of these. There are way more on the National Geographic List.

They also highlighted this book: In Arabian Nights, by Tahir Shah.

Just like a great journey, a great travel book enacts an exploration at once inward and outward. Tahir Shah’s mesmerizing new memoir is just such a journey: It brings the sights, sounds, and smells of modern Morocco to vibrant life, and at the same time, it indelibly evokes the country’s heart and soul.

Inspired by and grounded in that exemplary collection of Arab tales, The Thousand and One Nights—also known as the Arabian Nights—Shah interweaves descriptions of his adventures and encounters in his adopted Casablanca and around the country as he pursues a time-honored Berber quest: to find the story in his heart. In Arabian Nights, Shah’s follow-up to the acclaimed The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca, is steeped in the storytelling tradition. On the one hand, Shah’s father appears and reappears throughout the book, telling favored folk tales and teaching his children that such stories are “an instruction manual to the world,” all the while grooming his son Tahir to carry on the family’s storytelling responsibilities; on the other hand, the contemporary Moroccans Shah encounters all affirm the central educational role of the storyteller and bemoan the waning power of storytelling in their own culture.

Woven around this frame, Shah’s search for the story in his heart takes him from the teeming streets of Tangier in the north, through the medieval medinas of Marrakech and Fez, to the solitary sands of the Sahara in the south. Along the way he meets a succession of colorful characters and hears their tales, from the cobbler who reverently recites “The Tale of Maruf the Cobbler” to the near-blind storyteller who entrances him with the story of Mushkil Gusha, the remover of obstacles.

Simply as a work of art and imagination, In Arabian Nights is an enthralling triumph, but in our lamentably divided modern world, it assumes an even greater importance, for Shah’s account poignantly humanizes Arab culture, penetrating deep into usually unseen social and psychic layers. Like the bearer of a precious key, Shah leads us along meandering alleyways to an ancient door, which he unlocks and throws open onto the rich courtyard of traditional Arab custom and belief.

But for now I’m reading Morocco Bound: Disorienting America’s Maghreb from Casablanca to the Marrakech Express by Brian T Edwards. And A Basic Course in Moroccan Arabic by Richard Harrell. I can always use more books though…..


  1. I messed up my original comment.
    Glad you enjoy the blog.
    Some more reading matter for you!

    A Year in Marrakech by Peter Mayne
    Eland Press. Set in the 1950′s but appropriate today. The BEST book on Marrakech

    Women of Marrakech by Leonora P…. -help it escapes me. Out of print but WONDERFUL – a doctor’s wife in Marrakech between 1929 -1970. I will try to look it up.

    Of course, 1001 Nights is a wonderful introduction to all things Arabic

    We will definitely be back in Marrakech by the end of March – inshallah
    but have save quite a lot of pictures and photo essay ideas.

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