Reading Challenges

March 11, 2011

The Voices of Marrakech by Elias Canetti


Well, my original review seems to have been lost in the ether somewhere (that's a first!), so I'll try to summarize here what I reported on earlier today. If Hideous Kinky (see post below), gives a vintage view of Morocco in the 1970s, Nobel prize winning Elias Canetti's The Voices of Marrakech reaches further back in time to provide a glimpse of life in the immediate post-colonial period of Morocco in the 1950s. Like Esther Freud's memoirs, the author focuses on the hub of Marrakech and its bustling central square filled with characters, the Djama El Fna.

While The Voices of Marrakech ranks high atop most lists of must-read Moroccan travelogues, the book is far from being a literary treasure. Its tone is straightforward, if not a bit dry, and flows from informational sections that read like standard non-fiction to personal recollections of the author's own encounters and experiences. What is impressive about reading Canetti's account is noting just how little has changed in Morocco since the time the memoirs were written. For this reason, the most valuable portion of the book is perhaps the chapter dedicated to the Mellah, or Jewish quarter, because this is one aspect of the Moroccan cultural landscape that has changed drastically in the past century. Marrakech, and a few other Moroccan cities, were once home to a sizable Jewish population and the country prided itself on its diversity. This population has since decreased exponentially and no longer resides in the traditional Mellah quarters. 

The first section dedicated to the camel trade is also of interest as this is one aspect of Moroccan culture that can be hard to tap into while visiting the country due to language barriers or accessibility issues related to camel traders and their travel routes. Canetti's experiences with Moroccan Jews and camel traders act as valuable documents for those interested in Moroccan history and culture. Still, The Voices of Marrakech is really only recommendable for true Morocco aficionados. For those who are looking for an entertaining read or a first introduction to life in Morocco, there are better choices available such as the works of author Tahir Shah, whom I blogged about HERE.  


Elias Canetti is an interesting figure who led a vibrant life. Born in Bulgaria, he later immigrated to England, Austria and Switzerland, in addition to traveling abroad frequently. You can read a full list of the author's award-winning titles and access his biographical details HERE


4 comments:

  1. Great review. I have a trio of Cannetti memoirs that I still haven't delved into. It's amazing how few people read former Nobel Prize Winners. And sad.

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  2. That's so great that you have several of his books, Jennifer! You're one of the first people I've come across who has something besides "The Voices of Marrakech". I'm looking forward to trying out some of his fiction soon! Can't wait to hear about his other memoirs from you at some point!

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  3. You have a fabulous blog! I want to award you the Creative Blog Award for all the hard work you do!

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  4. Thanks Deirdra, I appreciate it! I will definitely check out your blog. Best wishes, Marisa. :)

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