Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Novel Time in Marrakech; Lovers of Literature Are Heading to Morocco to Visit One of the World's Most Exotic Literary Salons

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Novel Time in Marrakech; Lovers of Literature Are Heading to Morocco to Visit One of the World's Most Exotic Literary Salons

Article excerpt

Byline: CAROLINE PHILLIPS

MY FAMILY grew up with a really big secret," says the broadcaster and author Aminatta Forna.

"My father had been killed and nobody told us what had happened." An aid worker, a Bloomsbury publisher and a classics scholar sit transfixed as this powerful woman explains that her father was hanged. Aminatta is addressing the Jnane Tamsna Literary Salon in the eponymous hotel in the Palmeraie, the oasis outside Marrakech that has become a playground for London's artistic belle monde.

Candles flicker in hurricane lamps and the air is heady with the scent of jasmine. The sound of the call to prayer drifts over us, punctuated by the chime of crickets. "We knew only," she adds, "that he had set up an opposition party in Sierra Leone and had been hanged on charges of treason in 1975." Aminatta has fire in her eyes.

There has been a growth in intelligent travel. Instead of going on Venetian canals, you go on a tour of the Toronto waterworks with Booker-prize winning author Michael Ondaatje. Forget about getting bronzed: Zeitgeist holidays are now about glistening grey matter.

The Jnane Tamsna is a modern Moorish-style hotel (Brad Pitt, David Bowie and Georgio Armani have stayed) set in six hectares of organic gardens stuffed with pungent herbs, vegetables, wild flowers and tortoises. Set up by American ethnobotanist Gary Martin and his Senegalese wife Meryanne, this is their seventh salon. Previous authors include Esther Freud, Barbara Trapido and the travel writer William Dalrymple.

For two days, Aminatta talks about her memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water, and reads from her first novel, Ancestor Stones. She also runs writers' workshops over fresh orange juice and freshly-picked melons in an outdoor room with a fireplace and tent ceiling.

At the start of the weekend, my heart sinks. One attendee - a Parisian bookshop owner - reads a book a day. "Have you read Noughts and Crosses?"

Aminatta asks Thais, the delightful 13-yearold daughter of our hosts. "Oh, yes," she replies, "that's the one about inverse racism, isn't it?"

But it soon relaxes into a house party. …

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