There comes a time when even travel writers no longer feel like travelling; they return home, exhausted, to explore their roots. Tahir Shah, who has described his exotic adventures in Peru, India and Ethiopia, has reached that stage. His previous book, The Caliph's House, began the process, describing life in his home in Casablanca. But a recent experience in Pakistan's North West frontier accelerated it. Arrested with his film crew on suspicion of spying for al-Qa'ida, he was held in an interrogation centre called "The Farm" and subjected to weeks of sustained cross-questioning. What sustained him were memories of the stories he was told in Morocco as a child.

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Shortly after the London bombings, Tahir Shah was thrown into a Pakistani prison on suspicion of spying for Al-Qaeda. What sustained him during his terrifying, weeks-long ordeal were the stories his father told him as a child in Morocco. Inspired by this, on his return to his adopted homeland he embarked on an adventure worthy of the mythical Arabian Nights , going in search of the stories and storytellers that have nourished this most alluring of countries for centuries.

Wandering through the medinas of Fez and Marrakech, criss-crossing the Saharan sands and tasting the hospitality of ordinary Moroccans, he collected a treasury of traditional stories recounted by a vivid and eccentric cast of characters: from master masons who work only at night to Sufi wise men who write for soap operas and Tuareg guides addicted to reality TV. Himself a link in the chain of scholars and teachers who have passed such tales down from father to son, mother to daughter, Shah reveals a world and a way of thinking that most visitors to Morocco barely know exist.

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 Technically, it starts in a prison in Pakistan In Arabian Nights. Tahir Shah. He lives with his wife and two children in Casablanca.

His website is: www.


Morocco: true stories

He also hears of the Berber tradition that each person searches for the story within their heart. Events at home are interwoven with Shah's journeys across Morocco , and he sees how the Kingdom of Morocco has a substratum of oral tradition that is almost unchanged in a thousand years, a culture in which tales, as well as entertaining, are a matrix through which values, ideas and information are transmitted. Shah listens to anyone who has a tale to tell. He encounters professional storytellers, a junk merchant who sells his wares for nothing, but insists on a high payment for the tale attached to each item and a door to door salesman who can obtain anything, including, when Shah requests the first "Benares" edition of A Thousand and One Nights by Richard Burton , a translation that the author's father Idries Shah had once given away. As he makes his way through the labyrinthine medinas of Fez and Marrakech , traverses the Sahara sands, and tastes the hospitality of ordinary Moroccans, he collects a treasury of 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. Weaving in and out of the narrative are Shah's recollection of his family's first visits to Morocco and his father's storytelling and insistence that traditional tales contain vastly undervalued resources; "We are a family of storytellers.


In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams

For Idries Shah, the great 20th-century author and collector of Sufi stories, the surest way to understand a country was by listening to its tales. Like a secret door leading to a hidden garden, the words "once upon a time" opened on to an inner, parallel world. Shah's son Tahir absorbed his father's magical narratives throughout his childhood. He understood that the ancient stories acted like an instruction manual to the world, that they contained wisdom, and that one day he in turn would pass them on to his own children. Four years ago, Tahir Shah decided to rescue his young family from "ordinariness".

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