My enormous thanks to Rhiannon Morris at FMcM Associates for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for The Storyteller of Casablanca and for putting me in touch with the author Fiona Valpy for today’s blog tour stop. It’s a real honour to close the tour.
I wasn’t going to review The Storyteller of Casablanca because I am absolutely inundated with books that I ‘have’ to read, but having heard such wonderful things about it from the other bloggers on the tour I couldn’t resist fitting it in. I’m delighted to be able to chat with Fiona about the book and to share my review today.
Let’s find out what Fiona had to tell me:
Staying in with Fiona Valpy
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Fiona and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
It’s my pleasure – it’s great to meet you and I love nothing better than a relaxing night in!
It’s great to meet you too. I rather think I know, but tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought The Storyteller of Casablanca, my new novel which was out on 21st September.
A slightly belated Happy Publication Day! What can we expect from an evening in with The Storyteller of Casablanca?
It’s a dual timeline book which tells the story of Josie Duval, a 12-year-old refugee from France, whose family have fled to North Africa to escape the German occupation and attempt to get their papers in order to sail for America. Josie’s story unfurls through the eyes of Zoe Harris, a modern-day expat, who’s come to live in Casablanca with her husband who works in the shipping industry. As the novel unfolds, we learn that something is wrong in Zoe’s marriage and her story becomes entwined with Josie’s.
Where did you get the idea for The Storyteller of Casablanca?
I was inspired to write it when a gentleman in America contacted me to say how much he’d enjoyed reading some of my books and that he wished someone would tell the story of his wife’s time spent in Casablanca as a refugee during the war years. I emailed him back, but got no further reply. He had piqued my interest though. So I started doing some research and discovered this whole strand of war history that I hadn’t known much about before. I’d watched the iconic Bogart and Bergman movie, of course, but it largely ignores the story of the thousands of refugees who ended up in Casablanca as they tried to escape.
What an interesting catalyst for the story. I’ve never seen the film – maybe I should. Was The Storyteller of Casablanca a departure for you then?
The Storyteller of Casablanca includes some themes that I’ve explored in my previous books – what happens to ordinary people when their lives are turned upside down in extraordinary times, for example, and how tales of courage and determination can help inspire us in our own lives. But it was also a joy to delve into a new culture and to read more widely around the subject. I had a research trip to Morocco planned but then the pandemic hit and everything was cancelled – it forced me to be more creative with my research and it became a wonderful escape from lockdown, vicariously roaming the beaches and souks. Storytelling is another important theme and there are many stories told in this book in different ways.
My word. I’ve been to Morocco and you certainly bring it to life accurately. I can’t believe you haven’t been there Fiona!
What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?
I’m going to whisk us away to Morocco with some honey cakes and mint tea. I’ve also brought some items that appear in the book, to whet your appetite: a little gold star on a chain; a coral-pink feather; a sliver of jade-green sea glass; and a faded signature on a piece of blue paper. Each one is significant, but you’ll have to read the book to find out why…
Ah! Now I wasn’t going to read The Storyteller of Casablanca before this evening Fiona as I was so pressed for time. However, I heard so many magnificent things about it that I simply HAD to fit it in. Once I’ve given Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details I’ll share my review!
Thanks so much for staying in with me Fiona. I’ve loved hearing more about The Storyteller of Casablanca.
The Storyteller of Casablanca
In this evocative tale from the bestselling author of The Dressmaker’s Gift, a strange new city offers a young girl hope. Can it also offer a lost soul a second chance?
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?
Published by Lake Union on 21st September 2021, The Storyteller of Casablanca is available for purchase here.
My Review of The Storyteller of Casablanca
Zoe’s in a new home.
What a simply sumptuous read The Storyteller of Casablanca is. I loved it because Fiona Valpy has created a multi-layered, beautifully written and emotional narrative that mesmerises her reader.
The Storyteller of Casablanca is a perfect title for this book as there are multiple storytellers; from Zoe’s first person contemporary account, through Josie’s diarised narrative, to references to traditional, allegorical, cultural and mythical stories. Add in the iterative image of sleuthing through the Dorothy Sayers books and the relevance and importance of the library, particularly for Josie and there is a literary richness that captivates in Fiona Valpy’s writing.
And richness is a word so easily used to describe Fiona Valpy’s glorious settings in Morocco. She manages to place her reader at the heart of the action through her use of the senses, as well as through historical detail that creates a vivid and colourful sense of time and place. I learnt so much about Morocco in the 1940s as well as recognising the Morocco I have visited because the writing is so authentic. One of the aspects I found so brilliant was the reference to food. Kenza’s cooking in particular made me long to return to Morocco.
The plot is wonderful. I’m not usually a great fan of dual timelines, but the themes that link Zoe and Josie are so relatable and universal that the movement between both eras feels smooth and, actually, essential, in conveying the themes Fiona Valpy weaves into her writing. Through Josie’s innocent eyes and Zoe’s jaded ones we find a real depth of love in many forms, with aspects of trust and betrayal, the need to learn from history, examination of family and friendship, belonging and isolation, grief and happiness all building into an affecting, bewitching story.
I loved the women in The Storyteller of Casablanca. What I thought worked so well is that history is so often the domain of men, but here Fiona Valpy considers the role of women in an authentic and moving way. The narrative feels somehow true to the times it relates and to the characters between its pages. Meeting Josie, I became as obsessed with her as does Zoe. But it was Zoe who captivated me most. Her obsessive behaviour, her failing marriage and her sense of isolation in the midst of bustling Casablanca felt absolutely convincing.
Reading The Storyteller of Casablanca felt as if I’d been given a very precious gift. It’s a book that weaves a magical spell around the reader, entertaining them beautifully even as it educates but most of all moving them through a greater understanding of what love means in so many forms. Don’t miss it.
About Fiona Valpy
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