‘A strange new city offers a young girl hope. Can it also offer a lost soul a second chance?‘
The Storyteller of Casablanca
[ About the Book ]
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?
[ My Review ]
The Storyteller of Casablanca by Fiona Valpy will be published September 21st with Lake Union (Amazon Publishing) and is described as an ‘evocative tale of love, hope and second chances from the bestselling author of The Dressmaker’s Gift….a rich and immersive novel inspired by the true stories of French refugees seeking safe haven in Casablanca during the Second World War.‘ I am delighted to be joining the blog tour today with my review so I do hope you enjoy.
Before I get started on my thoughts, I must mention that throughout the novel Fiona Valpy scatters numerous historical figures, which adds a very authentic layer to the story. In a blog post, entitled The real-life characters who inspired The Storyteller Of Casablanca, Fiona Valpy writes about these incredible individuals who took great risks, but whose bravery will never be forgotten.
“One of the most famous arrivals was Josephine Baker, the barrier-breaking African American singer and dancer. She made the journey to North Africa when the Nazis took control of Paris, nailing a sign to the door of the Folies-Bergère which read ‘Access Forbidden to Dogs and Jews’. But Josephine refused to be cowed and spent the following years using her talents as an entertainer as cover for her work as a French resistance agent, carrying messages written in invisible ink on sheets of music back and forth between Morocco and Portugal.“
The novel, set in Morocco, is split into two distinct timelines, 1941 and 2010. Zoe arrives in Casablanca in 2010 looking for a change. Her marriage to Tom is shattering around her and she seems unable to stop the pieces from crashing down. A stranger in a strange country, Zoe struggles with immersing herself in the local culture. There is a buzzing ex-pat community already in situ and Zoe is welcomed into the fold, but she is reticent. Zoe is distant around others now, a shell of her former self, wanting to spend time alone with her daughter Grace, away from the madding crowd and the heat, the smells and the sounds of Casablanca. Zoe is fearful to step outside with her anxiety levels peaking when she has to be anywhere new. Tom works hard and is drinking more than Zoe would like but she cannot reach out to him. They barely communicate as they pass each other by in this odd existence that has now become their norm.
One day when Tom is at work, Zoe makes an unexpected discovery of a journal hidden in the floorboards of one of the bedrooms. Zoe is very surprised to see that it is a diary belonging to a young girl, Josie Duval, recounting her time as a refugee in Casablanca with her family, following their escape from France in 1941. Josie’s family had plans to get to America and, through her words, Zoe and the readers are taken on an incredible journey back in time. Zoe becomes completely immersed in Josie’s story, encouraging her to check out the local library for more resources about those tumultuous days of the Second World War.
While Zoe struggles with her new life in Casablanca she does discover a passion for quilting, one that takes her on a very unanticipated path, while opening her eyes to a world she had known next-to-nothing about.
Every time Zoe picks up Josie’s diary she uncovers more aspects of the challenges faced by all those refugees who were forced from their homeland by the Nazi invasion. Josie is quite the precocious young lady on the cusp of becoming a teenager. She has a smart way about her and is very much aware of the enormity of what is taking place around her. At times I did find her maturity to be more suitable to an older child but I suspect wartime makes children grow up faster.
Casablanca is a character in its own right, with Fiona Valpy bringing the atmosphere of the city, as it is today and as it was in the 1940s, very much to life for the reader. What I found truly fascinating with this aspect of the book is that Fiona Valpy wrote it during the recent lockdown.
“Writing a novel about Casablanca during a global pandemic gave me a few extra challenges, but I enjoyed escaping lockdown and vicariously spending time wandering the markets and beaches of Morocco.”
Josie’s words and Zoe’s life blur a little when Zoe starts seeing Casablanca through a different lens, leading the reader down a truly extraordinary rabbit-hole. As I read the book I was constantly switching my allegiance from Zoe to Josie and back again as their stories and characters developed. With a slow build-up Zoe’s story reveals itself very gradually as the chapters unveil themselves. Josie’s fate keeps the reader on tenterhooks as it’s clear that the war is progressing and the difficulties are considerable for Josie and her family to make their escape to The States.
There is a very strong sense of the culture and tradition of a people, from the locals of Casablanca to the migrants of both the past and present. A melting pot of experiences and stories are interwoven into this gorgeous and atmospheric tale of love, loss, grief and determination. The Storyteller of Casablanca is a fascinating read but also a very educational one as you cannot help but research further the history of this multicultural city made famous by the movie of the same name.
Fiona Valpy has captured something very special in this tale. It is an enthralling, affecting and sentimental story that will grab the heart, soul and the imagination of all readers. The Storyteller of Casablanca is an intuitive read that engages and immerses the reader. A beautiful story.
[ Bio ]
Fiona is an acclaimed number 1 bestselling author, whose books have been translated into more than twenty different languages worldwide.
She draws inspiration from the stories of strong women, especially during the years of World War II. Her meticulous historical research enriches her writing with an evocative sense of time and place.
She spent seven years living in France, having moved there from the UK in 2007, before returning to live in Scotland. Her love for both of these countries, their people and their histories, has found its way into the books she’s written.
Website – https://www.fionavalpy.com/
Twitter – @FionaValpy