The Storyteller of Casablanca

Written by Fiona Valpy
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1941, thirteen-year-old Josie, her sister, and parents, fearing Nazi atrocities on Jewish families, flee Paris for the relative safety of Vichy France in Casablanca, Morocco. They reside there, awaiting entry permits to the U.S. Having received a journal as a Hanukah/Christmas present, Josie begins to write about her experiences. She’s talented, wishing to be a writer, and can read a whole book in a day. She writes about their new home close to the Atlantic Ocean and the bustle and smells of life in Casablanca. The family socializes with other refugees. Josie’s papa is involved in some activities which she doesn’t quite understand.

In 2010, Zoe, her child, and husband Tom arrive in Casablanca from England. Tom is on a new posting from his shipping company and works late. Experiencing marital difficulties, Zoe is also bored since the Casablanca then is much different than “the days of Bogart and Bergman”. However, when Zoe accidentally finds Josie’s diary hidden underneath floorboards, she becomes engrossed in reading about that family’s life some seventy years earlier.

This novel’s theme of discovering a diary in present time and reading about past events may sound familiar. But by having a precocious thirteen-year-old write the journal, Fiona Valpy adds intrigue into the earlier narrative and a present-day perspective from the mature Zoe. Furthermore, the alternating chapters in Josie’s and Zoe’s first-person voices keep us intimately involved and engrossed. While Josie sounds a bit advanced for her age, her account should appeal to both YAs and adults. We learn much about Vichy French and Moroccan history, cuisine, and life. We also get a better understanding of the problems of the European refugees and the North African migrant crisis. Zoe also grasps astute Josie’s perspectives on family life to mend her broken heart. The novel’s adaptation would make a fantastic sequel to Casablanca.