Book Review: Morocco That Was

Morocco that Was Walter Harris coverOriginally published in 1921, Morocco That Was is a first-hand narrative account of a pivotal turning point in Morocco’s history. Walter Harris, the author of the book, first arrived in Morocco in 1887 and died in Tangier in 1933, having lived through the tumultuous last years of Morocco’s ruling Sultans and the loss of the country’s independence. Vivid and lively, his writing puts unusual humanism and detail to the historical parade of conquests and political maneuvering that marked Morocco during his years there as a correspondent for The Times of London. This book has remained a travel classic for good reason–it takes the reader by the hand and shows a new world, with all its the foibles, valor, horror and splendor. Like a good travel companion and a friend, Harris shows us the Morocco he knew.

There are few places now that are as inaccessible as Morocco was a century and a half ago. It was a formidable and vast landscape, guarding itself from invasion both physical and cultural, and a closed society in an almost constant internal power struggle among ruling factions. It was dangerous, uncomfortable and unwelcoming for outsiders. The stories of Walter Harris are remarkable not just for the detail rendered in all strata of Moroccan life, from the Moorish court to the mountain tribes, but for the access that was granted to a foreigner. He was an intimate of the Sultanate, protected by the warring clans, and so beloved in his adopted hometown of Tangier that almost the entire city shut down for his funeral. (more…)