When I invited my desk calendar to influence my reading plans, I was hoping to explore a city like this. Previously I could not have named a single Moroccan author—now there are several on my TBR list—and from the moment my research began, my starting point was clear.

Tahar Ben Jelloun’s writing has won the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Ulysse and been nominated for the Nobel Prize. He was born in Morocco in 1944 and was part of the student rebellion there in 1966, was sentenced to a military camp, and relocated to Paris following the publication of his first poems in 1971.

The Sand Child (1985; translated by Alan Sheridan, 1987) unfolds as a storyteller begins to share the contents of a sheaf of papers. There, in the marketplace of Marrakech “where grains are sold and peasants and animals sleep together, a place of exchange between town and country, surrounded by low walls and irrigated by a natural spring”.

It’s a story about a man whose eighth child is born, a child who must be male to accommodate the rules of inheritance, so although the child is born a girl, she is raised and presented as a boy.

As if this wasn’t interesting enough, there’s a lot to say about storytelling itself:

“The book is like a house in which each window is a district, each door a town, each page a street; it is only a sham house, a theatrical set in which the moon and sky are represented by a lightbulb and a blue sheet held between two windows.”

This Blinding Absence of Light (2001; translated by Linda Coverdale, 2002) depicts the experience of a man sentenced to Tazmamart, one of 58 officers who participated in the 1972 coup d’etat against King Hassan II.

Known for its brutal conditions, 35 of the men died before the prison was closed in 1991 (due to international pressure). The prison was in southeastern Morocco, but the prisoner’s dreams and memories of Marrakech were part of what sustained him through the ordeal.

He thinks about how his father had been a jeweller in the medina of Marrakech and “spent his time reading and learning by heart the works of the great Arab poets, pausing only to charm the beautiful women who stopped to admire the jewelry in his display window”. One of those beautiful women outside that window became his wife, and memories of the narrators’ mother, on her blue terrace in Marrakech, also figure.

Marrakech Noir, one of the series published by Akashic Books, contains fifteen stories translated from Arabic and French, most by well-established and prolific writers with a strong personal connection to the city (many of them born or raised there).

The contents of their contributors’ biographies could keep me reading for another year. Yassin Adnan’s introduction refers to the legend that the city got its name from ‘morkosh’, whispered fearfully by visitors centuries ago, who urged one another to ‘walk fast’.

There’s no tradition of noir literature in Morocco because the first detective story was not written until after the death of King Hassan II in 1999 (“The Blind Whale” by Abdelilah Hamdouchi).

The linguistic, cultural, and religious and ethnic reality of Marrakech is reflected in the anthology, moving through ancient neighbourhoods like Dar el-Basha and Derb Sidi Bouloukat, as well as new neighbourhoods like the poverty-stricken Sidi Youssef Ben Ali and the middle-class haven of Hay el-Massira.

There’s even a story set in Amerchich, the psychiatric hospital. Most of the stories touch on Jemaa el-Fnaa, the square which appears in both of the novels above. (You can flip right to it, because the area of the city appears under its title. Each translator’s name appears at the end of the story.)

This is the first time I’ve read Moroccan writers, and it was inspired by turning the page in my desk calendar. Every time we pick up a book to read, we choose to inhabit scenes we find familiar or to explore unfamiliar scenes, psychological or geographical. It takes an effort to reach beyond what we know, but it’s worthwhile.

Previous travel destinations this year, inspired in this manner, have included Copenhagen, London, Havana, Kyoto, Paris and San Francisco. My August destination is on the continent of North American once more, but it has resulted in a most fascinating reading list (and completely unreasonable plans and dreams).

Where has your reading taken you lately?