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Book Review | The Storyteller of Casablanca by Fiona Valpy

I’m delighted to be sharing my thoughts about The Storyteller of Casablanca by Fiona Valpy.

I’m also sharing The Storyteller of Casablanca book club questions you might like to use.

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Book cover for The Storyteller of Casablanca.  View from an archway over the tops of buildings in Morocco
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Lake Union Publishing (21 Sept. 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 315 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1542032105
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1542032100

Morocco, 1941. With France having fallen to Nazi occupation, twelve-year-old Josie has fled with her family to Casablanca, where they await safe passage to America. Life here is as intense as the sun, every sight, smell and sound overwhelming to the senses in a city filled with extraordinary characters. It’s a world away from the trouble back home―and Josie loves it.

Seventy years later, another new arrival in the intoxicating port city, Zoe, is struggling―with her marriage, her baby daughter and her new life as an expat in an unfamiliar place. But when she discovers a small wooden box and a diary from the 1940s beneath the floorboards of her daughter’s bedroom, Zoe enters the inner world of young Josie, who once looked out on the same view of the Atlantic Ocean, but who knew a very different Casablanca.

It’s not long before Zoe begins to see her adopted city through Josie’s eyes. But can a new perspective help her turn tragedy into hope, and find the comfort she needs to heal her broken heart?

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The Storyteller of Casablanca Review

The Storyteller of Casablanca is a little different to anything I’ve read before.  In my experience with two timelines, there’s a familial connection.  The connection with these timelines is ethereal …

Zoe’s narration in 2010 shares Josie’s narration from the 1940’s through her journal that is found under the floorboards in their house in Casa. 

There are similarities in both timelines – the culture and customs, of course the house in Casa they shared but also displacement. 

Zoe is in Casa through husband Tom’s job relocation and trying to find her way through the expat life.  She’s just passing through.  And for Josie and her family, fleeing from occupied France and the Nazi persecution of the Jews, they are refugees in Casa which is a temporary stopover on their way to America. 

Josie’s life, despite the wait and frustration for visas, is full of adventure and colour.  A chatty 12 year old, she leaves nothing out of her journal (sibling rivalry with Annette is entertaining)!  The treats that housekeeper Kenza makes sound delicious. I brought a little bit of Moroccan magic into my kitchen with her Ghoribas recipe (you’ll find the recipe in the book – I recommend you give it a go! yum!).

Moroccan cookies, Ghoribas on a wire rack

Sadly, not all Josie’s experiences are joyful.  Not all is at it seems on the surface. I was desperate to find out what happened to her.

In comparison, I felt Zoe’s life was melancholic and coloured grey and black.  She is on the Hermit’s journey (archetype from the major arcana).  I loved how she unintentionally draws a community together … I’ll never look at a piece of fabric the same way ever again!

There’s a deep emotional connection they share, even though many decades have passed. 

I had guessed something pivotal but was surprised at how emotional I was when it was actually revealed.  These characters felt real to me and I was totally invested in their lives.

Fiona Valpy’s writing drew me into the settings too.  Whether that was experiencing modern Casa or in the past, I was there, experiencing the sights and the sounds, the smells and the tastes, the people and their culture.

The characters are all vibrant – whether heroine/hero or villain. I love that real people inspired some of the characters in this fictional story.

The Storyteller of Casablanca is a hauntingly beautiful story.  It explores the shadows but also shows us the possibilities of acceptance and hope for new beginnings.  It’s very moving and will stay with me for a long time.

About the Author

Fiona Valpy spent seven years living in France, having moved there from the UK in 2007. She and her family renovated an old, rambling farmhouse in the Bordeaux winelands, during which time she developed new-found skills in cement-mixing, interior decorating and wine-tasting.

All of these inspirations, along with a love for the place, the people and their history, have found their way into the books she’s written, which have been translated into French, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Italian, Czech, Turkish, Lithuanian and Slovenian.

Fiona now lives in Scotland, and has begun working on new projects in that setting, but she still enjoys regular visits to France in search of the sun.

Twitter @FionaValpy

The Storyteller of Casablanca Book Club Questions

If you’re looking for questions for your bookclub, Fiona Valpy has shared the following questions:

  1. What were the overarching themes of the novel? How did they relate to each other and to the plot?
  2. Are there any particular quotes, passages or scenes that you feel were central to the novel?
  3. There are many different stories in the book, told in different ways. How important is it that cultures – or individuals – pass their stories on down the generations?
  4. Did you relate to any of the characters in the book? In what ways?
  5. Grief is a powerful thread running through the book. Did the characters’ responses to grief seem authentic? Which characters experienced growth and change, and which did not?
  6. Do you have a new sense of perspective as a result of reading The Storyteller of Casablanca? What did you learn?
  7. Were you surprised by any of the revelations at the end of the book?
  8. Are you familiar with other works by this author? If so, how do they compare? If not, did you come away from this book wanting to read more?

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