An exciting debut and a wonderful work of magical realism. Outside of time, the legendary storyteller and queen Sheherazade tells a little girl a story that has happened and is yet to happen, the rebirth of a story ancient and forgotten. Dreams of Maryam Tair: Blue Boots and Orange Blossoms brings readers to a Casablanca of myth and metaphor; curses and student revolts; and of witches, demons, djinns, and bureaucrats. Long after Biblical Adam set aside forgotten first-wife Lilith for Eve, star-crossed highborn Leila and scholar Adam catch the attention of the demons during Casablanca’s 1981 Bread Riots, and are disappeared. Months later—after centuries in the demons’ lair—Adam and Leila reunite at her parents’ once grand and now cursed house as shadows of themselves. But Leila returns from her ordeal pregnant with a special, singular child, one who draws out magical beings and has the power to change everything. A daughter she named Maryam, born with the scent of orange blossoms and a body filled with pain. Seamlessly interweaving a sprawling, multi-generational family tale with ancient creation stories, Mhani Alaoui’s cyclical half-myth half-reality story celebrates the radical power of disobedience.
Mhani Alaoui, born in 1977, is a Casablanca-based writer. She lived and studied for a long time in the US and received her PhD in anthropology from Princeton University. After twelve years in the US, she decided to move back to Casablanca where she worked as research director at the Foundation of one of Morocco’s largest corporations. A couple of years ago, she decided to leave her job and devote her time to writing. She currently lives in Casablanca, Morocco with her husband and two young sons. This is her first novel.
"The author laces together legend and myth, epic and quest, realism, fantasy into a complex novel, rich with meanings... everywhere the writing sings of the literary talents and acuity of its author. Hers is a new voice to listen out for."
"Dreams of Maryam Tair is an arresting tale with extraordinary appeal. There is here a real talent at work. Peoples and places come alive and are fully recognizable. In a sober style the author says it all, as it is: violence, abjection, misery, class arrogance, but also wonders and, perhaps, regenerative forces..."
– Abdellah Hammoudi, Princeton University, author of A Season in Mecca
"Linking fairy-tale magic with harsh realism, Moroccan writer Mhani Alaoui tells a captivating story that draws on the mythological past, yet has much relevance for contemporary social and political problems in the Arab world... This novel is a delight to read as much for its lyrical, incisive prose as for its hopeful message that serves to remind of the original goals of the Arab uprising which are hard to discern today. Alaoui skillfully matches her prose to her subject, waxing lyrical in the imaginative passages and abruptly changing to a sharper style in the realistic parts of the novel. She has broad knowledge of ancient texts and mythology, whether Arab, Berber or Greek, and uses it to show how history can be told and retold, interpreted and reinterpreted according to who is in power... Alaoui's story suggests new ways of addressing gender inequality and social injustice. One doesn't have to ride a bicycle around the world, but one must respect individual differences and rely on the power of love not coercion."