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In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan…
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In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams (2008)

by Tahir Shah

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http://www.mytwostotinki.com/?p=460

Some time ago I reviewed The Last Storytellers by Richard Hamilton, a book that collects some of the tales of the last storytellers of Marrakech. Also the book about which I am writing today dives deep into the world of Moroccan storytellers.

Tahir Shah, the author of In Arabian Nights, is well equipped to undertake this journey into the heart of Morocco through its stories and storytellers. He has roots in the Orient (his family comes originally from Afghanistan), but he lived most of his life in the West (he grew up in Britain). He comes from a dynasty of storytellers himself: his father Idries Shah collected and published many books with traditional oriental tales and stories that contain a lot of the wisdom of the Sufi dervishes. Also the author's aunt, Amina Shah, to whom the book is dedicated, was a collector and master storyteller of Arabic and Oriental stories and tales.

The probably best-known book by Tahir Shah is The Caliph's House in which he describes how he settled in Casablanca with his family and bought an old house there. In Arabian Nights describes what happened after this period covered by the previous book.

It starts with a deeply disturbing and traumatic experience. When the author is preparing a documentary film he wants to make in Afghanistan, he is arrested by Pakistani police as a terror suspect and has to endure a several week long ordeal in one of the many Pakistani torture prisons, before he is finally released. What sustained him during these weeks were the stories told to him by his father when he was a child in Morocco and that he tried to recollect and repeat to himself.

After his return, the author starts to search for "his" story - based on an old Berber belief that each person has his/her own story, a story that has a special meaning for this person, and that you are only a complete person after you found that story.

Tahir Shah takes us readers on this journey which is full of interesting, frequently funny encounters and events. We meet storytellers in the most improbable disguise: from the craftsmen and guardians of the Caliph's House, to the regular guests of Cafe Mabrook, a men-only coffee shop and hideout for henpecked husbands who hide here from their Alpha females at home; from the cobbler who repairs the author's shoes, to Monsieur Benito, an old Italian gentleman who owns the first edition of Richard Burton's Arabian Nights; from Mohamed Mrabet, the famous Moroccan storyteller, to a guardian in a mental hospital; from a Tuareg guide to Sufi masters: we get to know a great richness of stories - stories that are never only meant to entertain people but that have usually many layers below the surface, and the deeper the layer we reach, the deeper the meaning of the story. The author is taking us to the Atlas mountain and to Chefchaouen, to the Sahara desert and of course to Marrakech, the capital of storytellers, and to Fès, the dark heart of Morocco.

This book is not only a book about storytelling. It is also a travel book of course. But it is also a book about friendship and the high value it has in the traditional Moroccan society. When Dr Mehdi, a retired surgeon and one of the regulars in Cafe Mabrook with whom Shah makes friends, is asking the author for a favor, Shah agrees to do him the favor without asking (that's a big difference to the Western world where everybody would first ask about what kind of favor it is - thus diminishing the friendship in the eyes of a Moroccan). Dr Mehdi is asking him to bring him some special salt from the Sahara desert that is needed for a wedding. It will be a journey that will have a deep impact on the author. And the journey has a surprising end that is also a lesson in friendship:

'Is there enough salt for the wedding?' - The surgeon took a deep breath. 'There is no wedding,' he said. - 'What?' - 'The favor I asked you was less a favor to me and more a favor to yourself.' - 'I don't understand.' - 'Think of the things you have seen, the people you have met and the stories you have heard,' he said, emptying the bag of salt on to the path. 'You are a different man than you were seven days ago.'

Another thing I really like about the book is the author's attitude to Moroccans in general and to the poor people in particular. He is always truly respectful and willing to learn from them and to understand their way of thinking. The bidonville, the shantytown that borders the Caliph's House, may be a mess. But good people are living there with their hearts in the right place.

This is one of the most delightful books I have been reading since a long time. But be careful, dear reader, this book might ignite a life-long passion for Morocco in you. After reading this book, you will almost for sure think about your (next) journey to this country that is so full of wonderful stories. Tahir Shah is opening our eyes, ears and hearts for these stories and for Morocco. ( )
  Mytwostotinki | Mar 19, 2016 |
http://www.mytwostotinki.com/?p=460

Some time ago I reviewed The Last Storytellers by Richard Hamilton, a book that collects some of the tales of the last storytellers of Marrakech. Also the book about which I am writing today dives deep into the world of Moroccan storytellers.

Tahir Shah, the author of In Arabian Nights, is well equipped to undertake this journey into the heart of Morocco through its stories and storytellers. He has roots in the Orient (his family comes originally from Afghanistan), but he lived most of his life in the West (he grew up in Britain). He comes from a dynasty of storytellers himself: his father Idries Shah collected and published many books with traditional oriental tales and stories that contain a lot of the wisdom of the Sufi dervishes. Also the author's aunt, Amina Shah, to whom the book is dedicated, was a collector and master storyteller of Arabic and Oriental stories and tales.

The probably best-known book by Tahir Shah is The Caliph's House in which he describes how he settled in Casablanca with his family and bought an old house there. In Arabian Nights describes what happened after this period covered by the previous book.

It starts with a deeply disturbing and traumatic experience. When the author is preparing a documentary film he wants to make in Afghanistan, he is arrested by Pakistani police as a terror suspect and has to endure a several week long ordeal in one of the many Pakistani torture prisons, before he is finally released. What sustained him during these weeks were the stories told to him by his father when he was a child in Morocco and that he tried to recollect and repeat to himself.

After his return, the author starts to search for "his" story - based on an old Berber belief that each person has his/her own story, a story that has a special meaning for this person, and that you are only a complete person after you found that story.

Tahir Shah takes us readers on this journey which is full of interesting, frequently funny encounters and events. We meet storytellers in the most improbable disguise: from the craftsmen and guardians of the Caliph's House, to the regular guests of Cafe Mabrook, a men-only coffee shop and hideout for henpecked husbands who hide here from their Alpha females at home; from the cobbler who repairs the author's shoes, to Monsieur Benito, an old Italian gentleman who owns the first edition of Richard Burton's Arabian Nights; from Mohamed Mrabet, the famous Moroccan storyteller, to a guardian in a mental hospital; from a Tuareg guide to Sufi masters: we get to know a great richness of stories - stories that are never only meant to entertain people but that have usually many layers below the surface, and the deeper the layer we reach, the deeper the meaning of the story. The author is taking us to the Atlas mountain and to Chefchaouen, to the Sahara desert and of course to Marrakech, the capital of storytellers, and to Fès, the dark heart of Morocco.

This book is not only a book about storytelling. It is also a travel book of course. But it is also a book about friendship and the high value it has in the traditional Moroccan society. When Dr Mehdi, a retired surgeon and one of the regulars in Cafe Mabrook with whom Shah makes friends, is asking the author for a favor, Shah agrees to do him the favor without asking (that's a big difference to the Western world where everybody would first ask about what kind of favor it is - thus diminishing the friendship in the eyes of a Moroccan). Dr Mehdi is asking him to bring him some special salt from the Sahara desert that is needed for a wedding. It will be a journey that will have a deep impact on the author. And the journey has a surprising end that is also a lesson in friendship:

'Is there enough salt for the wedding?' - The surgeon took a deep breath. 'There is no wedding,' he said. - 'What?' - 'The favor I asked you was less a favor to me and more a favor to yourself.' - 'I don't understand.' - 'Think of the things you have seen, the people you have met and the stories you have heard,' he said, emptying the bag of salt on to the path. 'You are a different man than you were seven days ago.'

Another thing I really like about the book is the author's attitude to Moroccans in general and to the poor people in particular. He is always truly respectful and willing to learn from them and to understand their way of thinking. The bidonville, the shantytown that borders the Caliph's House, may be a mess. But good people are living there with their hearts in the right place.

This is one of the most delightful books I have been reading since a long time. But be careful, dear reader, this book might ignite a life-long passion for Morocco in you. After reading this book, you will almost for sure think about your (next) journey to this country that is so full of wonderful stories. Tahir Shah is opening our eyes, ears and hearts for these stories and for Morocco. ( )
  Mytwostotinki | Dec 14, 2015 |
http://www.mytwostotinki.com/?p=460

Some time ago I reviewed The Last Storytellers by Richard Hamilton, a book that collects some of the tales of the last storytellers of Marrakech. Also the book about which I am writing today dives deep into the world of Moroccan storytellers.

Tahir Shah, the author of In Arabian Nights, is well equipped to undertake this journey into the heart of Morocco through its stories and storytellers. He has roots in the Orient (his family comes originally from Afghanistan), but he lived most of his life in the West (he grew up in Britain). He comes from a dynasty of storytellers himself: his father Idries Shah collected and published many books with traditional oriental tales and stories that contain a lot of the wisdom of the Sufi dervishes. Also the author's aunt, Amina Shah, to whom the book is dedicated, was a collector and master storyteller of Arabic and Oriental stories and tales.

The probably best-known book by Tahir Shah is The Caliph's House in which he describes how he settled in Casablanca with his family and bought an old house there. In Arabian Nights describes what happened after this period covered by the previous book.

It starts with a deeply disturbing and traumatic experience. When the author is preparing a documentary film he wants to make in Afghanistan, he is arrested by Pakistani police as a terror suspect and has to endure a several week long ordeal in one of the many Pakistani torture prisons, before he is finally released. What sustained him during these weeks were the stories told to him by his father when he was a child in Morocco and that he tried to recollect and repeat to himself.

After his return, the author starts to search for "his" story - based on an old Berber belief that each person has his/her own story, a story that has a special meaning for this person, and that you are only a complete person after you found that story.

Tahir Shah takes us readers on this journey which is full of interesting, frequently funny encounters and events. We meet storytellers in the most improbable disguise: from the craftsmen and guardians of the Caliph's House, to the regular guests of Cafe Mabrook, a men-only coffee shop and hideout for henpecked husbands who hide here from their Alpha females at home; from the cobbler who repairs the author's shoes, to Monsieur Benito, an old Italian gentleman who owns the first edition of Richard Burton's Arabian Nights; from Mohamed Mrabet, the famous Moroccan storyteller, to a guardian in a mental hospital; from a Tuareg guide to Sufi masters: we get to know a great richness of stories - stories that are never only meant to entertain people but that have usually many layers below the surface, and the deeper the layer we reach, the deeper the meaning of the story. The author is taking us to the Atlas mountain and to Chefchaouen, to the Sahara desert and of course to Marrakech, the capital of storytellers, and to Fès, the dark heart of Morocco.

This book is not only a book about storytelling. It is also a travel book of course. But it is also a book about friendship and the high value it has in the traditional Moroccan society. When Dr Mehdi, a retired surgeon and one of the regulars in Cafe Mabrook with whom Shah makes friends, is asking the author for a favor, Shah agrees to do him the favor without asking (that's a big difference to the Western world where everybody would first ask about what kind of favor it is - thus diminishing the friendship in the eyes of a Moroccan). Dr Mehdi is asking him to bring him some special salt from the Sahara desert that is needed for a wedding. It will be a journey that will have a deep impact on the author. And the journey has a surprising end that is also a lesson in friendship:

'Is there enough salt for the wedding?' - The surgeon took a deep breath. 'There is no wedding,' he said. - 'What?' - 'The favor I asked you was less a favor to me and more a favor to yourself.' - 'I don't understand.' - 'Think of the things you have seen, the people you have met and the stories you have heard,' he said, emptying the bag of salt on to the path. 'You are a different man than you were seven days ago.'

Another thing I really like about the book is the author's attitude to Moroccans in general and to the poor people in particular. He is always truly respectful and willing to learn from them and to understand their way of thinking. The bidonville, the shantytown that borders the Caliph's House, may be a mess. But good people are living there with their hearts in the right place.

This is one of the most delightful books I have been reading since a long time. But be careful, dear reader, this book might ignite a life-long passion for Morocco in you. After reading this book, you will almost for sure think about your (next) journey to this country that is so full of wonderful stories. Tahir Shah is opening our eyes, ears and hearts for these stories and for Morocco. ( )
  Mytwostotinki | Dec 14, 2015 |
Tahir Shah tells some stories, seeks (and finds) “the story that lives in his heart”, knocks around Casablanca, travels to Fez and to Marrakesh, tries to keep his household under control, and reminisces about his father.

In the hands of a lesser storyteller this could be some thin stuff, but Shah is a master: funny, sympathetic, knowledgeable, subtle, sensitive and bold, he infuses all these threads with meaning and meanders across them with humility, grace, good humor and unflinching resolve to get to the heart of the matter.

It seemed a little formulaic in places, though. I'm willing to suppose that in my scant experience with this kind of travel writing I misunderstand the characteristics of the genre, but the hanging, episodic structure felt a little contrived. Still great fun to read and a very good book. As a special bonus you can learn a LOT about storytelling. ( )
  steve.clason | Jul 17, 2012 |
There was a lot to like in this book. Shah describes Morocco vividly, so that you get a feel for the way of life as well as the scenery. The stories cropping up within his own story are often delightful. Getting to know the rather eccentric staff at his house was entertaining.

At the same time, somewhere not quite to the halfway mark, I started to wonder if Shah found anything at all he liked about Western culture. He seemed to always be giving ways that Moroccan culture (and to an extent, other Arab cultures) were superior to the rest of the world. Because Morocco is not his native country, it seemed a little like glorification of the purity of some primitive tribe he'd discovered.

The good points still outweighed the bad, though, and I do agree that stories have a special way to work on the mind which is often more effective than facts or lectures. ( )
  ursula | Aug 7, 2010 |
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Epigraph
Here we are, all of us: in a dream-caravan. / A caravan, but a dream-a dream, but a caravan. / And we know which are the dreams. / Therein lies the hope. -Sheikh Bahaudin

Nasrudin was sent by the King to find the most foolish man in the land and bring him to the palace as Court jester. The Mulla traveled to each town and village, in turn, but could not find a man stupid enough for the job. Finally, he returned alone. "Have you located the greatest idiot in our kingdom?" "Yes," replied Nasrudin, "but he is too busy looking for fools to take the job." -The World of Nasrudin by Idries Shah
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553384430, Paperback)



Named one of Time magazine’s Ten Best Books of the Year, Tahir Shah’s The Caliph’s House was hailed by critics and compared to such travel classics as A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun. Now Shah takes us deeper into the real Casablanca to uncover mysteries hidden for centuries from Western eyes.

In this entertaining jewel of a book, Tahir Shah sets off across Morocco on a bold new adventure worthy of the mythical Arabian Nights. As he wends his way through the labyrinthine medinas of Fez and Marrakech, traverses the Sahara sands, and samples the hospitality of ordinary Moroccans, Tahir collects a dazzling treasury of traditional wisdom stories, gleaned from the heritage of A Thousand and One Nights, which open the doors to layers of culture most visitors hardly realize exist. From master masons who labor only at night to Sufi wise men who write for soap operas, In Arabian Nights takes us on an unforgettable, offbeat, and utterly enchanted journey.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:50 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Here, travel writer Shah sets out on a bold new journey across Morocco. As he wends his way through the labyrinthine medinas of Fez and Marrakesh, traverses the Sahara sands, and tastes the hospitality of ordinary Moroccans, Tahir collects a dazzling treasury of traditional stories, gleaned from the heritage of A Thousand and One Nights. The tales, recounted by a vivid cast of characters, reveal fragments of wisdom and an oriental way of thinking that is both enthralling and fresh. A link in the chain of scholars and teachers who have passed these stories down for centuries like a baton in a relay race, Shah reaches layers of culture that most visitors hardly realize exist, and eventually discovers the story living in his own heart. Along the way he describes the colors, characters, and the passion of Morocco, and comes to understand why it is such an enchanting land.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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