Book Review:The Last Storytellers

Richard Hamilton

I. B. Taurus Publishers

The Last Storytellers Cover

The Last Storytellers is a truly unique literary concept that puts ancient stories from the Moroccan tradition of oral storytelling into print. The practice of storytelling in Morocco goes back well over a thousand years, but it has become endangered in recent years. Assisted by his guide, Ahmed Tija, Richard Hamilton sought out five authentic storytellers who recounted their tales in Darija (the Moroccan form of Arabic). Typically, they are men who followed what they believed to be their fate, despite the disapproval of orthodox Islam and opposition from their families - those who regarded storytelling as little better than begging.

About The Author

Richard Hamilton is a professional broadcast journalist currently working for the BBC world service. He has spent time reporting from Morocco, South Africa and Madagascar. While in Morocco he co-authored the Time Out Guide to Marrakech and has written throughout his career for various newspapers and magazines. The Last Storytellers continues his affinity with Morocco focusing predominantly on Marrakech once more.

The Last Storytellers

The Last Storytellers may be aged, poor and frail old men, but their stories are infinitely rich in detail and full of vitality. In his excellent introduction, Richard Hamilton tells of some of their accomplishments. One learns most of the Old Testament and all of `One Thousand and One Nights'; Another studies classical Arabic texts at night and recites them the next day in Darija; The youngest, who was born into an extremely poor family and had to leave school so that he could help his father at work, is exceptionally well read and introduces material from Cervantes or Jorge Luis Borges into his tales; The oldest, going deaf and already blind, remembers when, during the time of the French Protectorate, storytellers - speaking in the Berber language - used stories to pass messages to one another in code.

Hamilton continues on to recount the historical dedication of the storytellers. He believes to truly appreciate their work and historical significance, a reader must appreciate this history. The storytellers are links in a chain that has been unbroken for almost 1,000 years, with the stories being shared and learnt by new generations throughout: a truly remarkable occurrence in an ever-changing world.

The Stories

Since the men who tell the stories are no strangers to poverty and oppression, it is not surprising that these thirty-seven tales show sympathy to the underdogs. The subversive endings are full of hope for the lost and broken. Sons of black slaves inherit a kingdom and marry a Sultan's daughters; respected magistrates turn out to be crooks; barbers are promoted to the rank of vizier; and a Sultan sacks all his sycophantic viziers because none will tell him the truth.

In Conclusion

The mark of a truly great story is how it stays with you after the final page is turned. The Last Storytellers is a very entertaining collection and one to keep going back to, as the characters and events resurface in your mind. All good stories have depths which do not reveal themselves immediately, and as time passes, these tales mature in your imagination.

Richard Hamilton has done us all a service in recording what he describes as "a priceless treasure, as precious as mankind's greatest artefact or the planet's most endangered species, and of immeasurable importance to humanity."

When I first read the above quote, I looked on it with suspicion, believing it to be perhaps a sycophantic marketing ploy and a promotion tool. Upon completion of the book and re-reading the introduction for the third time to make sure I truly understood the unique history, I now find myself agreeing with Hamilton's view - a truly remarkable piece of literature.

Last Updated: August 2011

Dan Baker

Dan Baker

Dan graduated University in 2010 and came aboard the Essential Travel team shortly after. He brought with him a wealth of writing experience taken from his time studying and so it was only a natural progression for him to begin to write with us. Outside of work he is a keen sportsmen, traveller and socialite and it is clear throughout his work that these traits continue to influence his writing strongly.