Geography of reading: 5 books about North Africa

A lot of books have been written about the mysterious continent that has long attracted travelers and adventurers

May 22, 2022

Reading geography: 5 books about North Africa

In this collection we talk about books that take place in the countries of North Africa: Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia. All of them are united by the themes of adventures, fateful meetings, tragic love stories, journeys deep into the continent and into the depths of one's own memory.

Paul Bowles — “Under the Sky”

Geography of reading: 5 books about North Africa

“Under the Sky” is a beautiful, disturbing, in places completely heartbreaking novel by the American writer and composer Paul Bowles, who lived a long and adventurous life. Bowles traveled widely, toured Europe, North Africa, Mexico and Central America, and in 1947 settled in Tangier, where he spent almost the rest of his life. Here he creates his most famous work: the novel “Under the cover of heaven” (1949), – as well as “Moroccan stories”, Journey through Morocco (not translated into Russian), etc.

The action of the novel begins in Oran (Algeria). American couple Port and Keith Moresby, along with their friend George Tanner, embark on a journey through Algeria, away from a world crippled by war. At first it seems that the main intrigue of the novel is the relationship between the characters, but then the story unwinds sharply, involving the characters in a maelstrom of tragic events and does not let the reader go until the last page. By the way, some episodes describing the relationship between Port and Kit, to some extent reflect the difficult relationship of the writer with his wife Jane Auer.

The book “Under the cover of heaven” was named by the experts of the magazine >among the hundred best novels of the 20th century, and in 1990 it was filmed by the Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci – with a cameo by Bowles himself in the final scene of the film.

Penelope Lively – “Moon Tiger »

Geography of reading: 5 books about North Africa

As in Bowles' novel, the plot is centered on a tragic love story, but that's where the similarities end. The heroine of the novel, journalist and historian Claudia Hampton, on her deathbed, recalls her long life full of events, and her only true love – Captain Tom Sauvern, whom they met during World War II in Egypt.

Leitmotif Romana – “moon tiger”, a smoldering spiral to protect against tropical insects. “Moon Tiger” becomes not only a witness to the relationship of the main characters, but also a symbol of the transience of human life.

Descriptions of Cairo, to which many pages of the novel are devoted, are very realistic, and this is no coincidence: Penelope Lively spent her entire childhood in Egypt, and already at a young age she went to study world history at Oxford. The heroine of the novel, Claudia , is also a historian, which suggests that the novel is partially autobiographical.

“Moon Tiger” was shortlisted for the Golden Booker, that is, it was named by readers as one of the five best books of the second half of the 20th century. However, the novel lost the victory to another book, the action of which also takes place in Africa, – we will talk about it below.

Michael Ondaatje – “The English Patient”

< p>Geography of reading: 5 books about North Africa

The English Patient is a subtle and poetic love story and a worldwide bestseller, which was made into a film with Rife Fiennes, Juliette Binoche and Willem Dafoe, which won nine Oscars. The whimsical paths of fate at the end of World War II bring together four heroes in an abandoned Italian villa: a noble thief recruited by intelligence, a Sikh sapper who clears mines in picturesque Tuscany, a young Canadian nurse and her ward – nameless and burned beyond recognition.

The “English patient”, who received terrible burns in a plane crash in the Sahara, resurrects his passionate affair with a married woman, swept away by a hurricane of war and geopolitical intrigues. The historical scenery of the novel was the North African and Italian campaigns of World War II. The story, which does not unfold in chronological order, is transferred between the memories of the “English patient” before the accident and current events in the bombed-out Villa San Girolamo.

The English Patient, published in 1992, was recognized as the best book that has received the Booker Prize in the last 50 years, that is, in all the years the award has existed. Roman Ondaatje was chosen from the shortlist based on the results of the reader's vote.

Tahir Shah — “A Year in Casablanca”

Geography of reading: 5 books about North Africa

Tahir Shah is a British writer of Afghan origin and a man with an outstanding pedigree: his grandfather was an adviser to the ruler of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and King Hassan II of Morocco.

One fine day, Tahir Shah decided to give up a prosperous but boring existence in London and moved his family to Morocco. He bought a beautiful old house in Casablanca called “Gift of the Caliph”, but this event did not mark the beginning of a happy and carefree life, but a real series of trials. The house was in a dilapidated state, and Shah began repairs, which dragged on for many months – largely due to the peculiarities of the local mentality, the specific beliefs and beliefs of the inhabitants of the house.

The author had to face the other side face to face Moroccan life, with which travelers who come to the country for a short time usually do not come into contact: with local superstitions, belief in genies and a special blessing – baraka, as well as with a peculiar attitude to work and the rhythm of any Moroccan activity that does not obey any logic.

< p>At the same time, the book is written with great love for Morocco and its inhabitants, and also with healthy humor and self-irony: despite numerous difficulties, the author has not ceased to treat the country and its inhabitants kindly, and philosophically about the difficulties and failures .

Andrey Bely —”African Diary”

Geography of reading: 5 books about North Africa

Russian writers did not often get to Africa – too far a direction. Nevertheless, there is still one book by a Russian writer in our selection.

The famous Symbolist Andrei Bely and his wife Anna Turgeneva traveled through Sicily, Tunisia, Egypt and Palestine from December 1910 to April 1911. The trip to Africa was one of the key moments in the life of the writer – according to him, he returned from there a completely different person. During this journey, Bely sought to discover a new cultural world, in which he searched for living spiritual values, opposing them to outdated European ones. The result of this trip was two works – “Travel Notes” and “African Diary”.

This is what Bely himself said about the “African Diary”: “The purpose of this book” is to give a few pictures from the life and life of a huge African continent, which life I overheard from only two or three points. Staying in a quiet Arab village, in Rades, was a huge revelation for me, expanding my horizons; from here I mentally traveled into the depths of Africa, into the depths of the centuries that made up its modern life; we already feel this life, thousands of threads connect us with Africa.”

In the book, Bely tells in detail about the life and culture of Tunisia and Egypt, describes Cairo with its pyramids, the cities of Rades, Carthage, Kairouan, their mosques, quarters, streets and cafes, as well as the habits and distinctive features of local residents. Several chapters are devoted to the great African river Nile. Under the pen of Andrei Bely Gorod, the villages of North Africa acquire a special poetic dimension.

Ksenia Gasho

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