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Novel set in 1950s MOROCCO

7th September 2023

The Black Crescent by Jane Johnson, novel set in 1950s Morocco – Casablanca and Tafraout (Tiziane).

Novel set in 1950s MOROCCO

The Black Crescent follows the story of a Berber boy, Hamou Badi, who is growing up in a poor, remote Moroccan village during the time of the French Protectorate. As a youngster, Hamou has to leave his family and relocate to Casablanca where he is educated and eventually joins the French Police. He finds himself  standing with “a foot in two worlds that are moving further apart by the day”, during a turbulent time in the 1950s, when Moroccan independence movement is at its height. The activities of the independence party, the Istiqlal, are being usurped by a new movement for liberation, the Black Crescent, which is taking direct action to restore the Sultan and remove the French.

Hamou’s loyalties are tested; loyalty to his people, who have been oppressed by the ‘colons’ and aren’t above taking the law into their own hands, but also to the French, who pay his salary and represent order and progress, but also corruption and abuse of power. He struggles with his sense of identity, as he considers his nation, parentage, community and religion. He asks himself whether loyalty to your employer should trump his heritage.

Hamou is an engaging character, as are the many others we encounter – not all of whom are as likeable as Hamou. The plot is tense at times, as Hamou’s precarious situation makes him the enemy of both his own people and the French. His own character shines through, with admirable values that ought by rights to be rewarded. Although Hamou is an upright citizen, with many good qualities, an additional challenge is the traditional belief that he is a ‘zouhry’; born with magical powers. This is something he tries to deny, even to himself, yet things just keep happening around him that fit the tradition, which is quite amusing.

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Johnson weaves a romantic life for Hamou, which adds to the tension, as he and Zina seem destined never to be together. Zina is just one of many strong and believable female characters. The romance, combined with the detective work that Hamou embarks on at various stages in the book, make The Black Crescent a fascinating read, and not just a political account of an important time in Morocco’s history.

As far as location is concerned, it is all I can do to stop myself from booking a visit to Morocco immediately after reading the book: the descriptions of people and places are so evocative that I feel I must see them for myself. From the bustling maze that is the old city of Casablanca to the wild, arid and mountainous countryside where Hamou grew up, Johnson’s depictions in the novel are vivid and colourful. There are rich, descriptions of scents, sights and sounds. This is a book to appeal to all your senses – including your sense of fair play. Johnson uses local words in the text, which adds to the authenticity. There’s a useful glossary at the end of the book, though most are either self-explanatory or clues are given alongside. The author mentions her love of learning new things when she reads, and this is my own passion; one that is amply satisfied by this lovely book. I hadn’t read any of her work before but will definitely be searching the TripFiction database and keeping an eye on NetGalley to see what else I can find.

The Black Crescent is many things: a political and historical novel; a romance, a murder-mystery and a record of Moroccan traditions and beliefs. All of these things are done superbly by Jane Johnson, who has written a book that is light and entertaining while dealing with some pretty weighty issues. Her afterword illustrates how well qualified she is to write about the people of the country that has become her home.

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Here the author talks about the setting for the novel

Sue for the TripFiction Team

Catch the author on IG: janejohnsobakrim Twitter: JaneJohnsonBakr

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