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Lulu in Marrakech Hardcover – October 7, 2008

3 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fans of Johnson's NBA finalist Le Divorce will know what to expect: a fish-out-of-water story about a clash of cultures. Still, the tone and scope of this agreeable if quiet story owes more to the author's early work—Persian Nights, in particular—than the better-known ones about Franco-American culture clashes. Like that 1987 book, this one has more than a soupçon of politics thrown into its cultural comedy of manners. Lulu Sawyer is a CIA agent who arrives in Morocco, both to rekindle her romance with worldly English boyfriend Ian and to trace the flow of Western money to radical Islamic groups. She meets with characters both Western and Eastern, which allows for some typically Johnsonian observations ([Honor killing is] not so common among Algerians.... It's usually the Turks, opines one character). The book works best in small moments and in scenes involving the supporting characters, but the central plot—about Lulu and Ian's relationship—never quite catches fire, and Lulu-as-CIA-agent seems tired and unnecessary. Most fans will wade through the overdetermined plot to get to the sly asides and the astute observation that are and always have been Johnson's forte. (Oct.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Though bearing the admirable fascination for culture clash that Johnson has made her signature over the years, Lulu in Marrakech is nonetheless problematic in its unbelievable protagonist, plot, and treatment of international issues. Lulu Googles refugee camps in the western Sahara and analyzes cocktail party gossip—her arsenal lacks fancy gadgets or files. The plots jumps implausibly from poolside flirtations to issues of kidnapping and torture, and Lulu's narration contains insensitivities to cultural distinctions that are possibly meant to highlight cultural stereotypes of American and Muslim women but instead come off as cartoonish. Finally, most critics noted that the novel lacks direction: is it a parable of U.S. foreign policy or culture clash, a love story, a thriller, or a comedy of manners juxtaposed with the world of terrorism and torture? While it succeeds in some of these genres, it fails to achieve them all.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 307 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult; First Edition edition (October 7, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525950370
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525950370
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,054,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm an American who has lived in Marrakech for nearly 30 years and after reading this book, I'm wondering what Marrakech the author is talking about? She passes off a mish-mash of foods, traditions, names and clothing from other parts of the Islamic world that have nothing to do with Morocco. There are so many factual errors--there's no Moroccan dish called poulet au poivres rouges no raisins in a pigeon pastilla, and no goats in the trees on the Casablanca road, to name a few--that I couldn't help wondering if the author was going to set her spy story in Marrakech, why on earth didn't she take the trouble to get the details right? There are also so many inaccuracies in her descriptions of the relations between Muslims and Christians that it would seem to add even more fuel to the fire of misunderstandings that already exist between us and the Islamic world. If you want to get an authentic look at life in Marrakech as seen by a Western woman, read another book: "Zohra's Ladder & other Moroccan Tales."
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Format: Hardcover
There are no redeeming aspects of this book. The character development is laughable (all Lulu's relationships seem forced and unrealistic; for that matter, Lulu herself is someone you wouldn't want to get stuck next to at a dinner party). Her so-called observations are ignorant and predictable ( every Arab man she comes across is a terrorist or a coward, and every woman is weak and abused). Her portrayals of life in Marrakesh do not even attempt to conjure up the sights, sounds, and smells of the city or its inhabitants. The author made no attempt to research the culture. The plot is flat and almost laughable. Don't bother with this book.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Never for one moment do you accept Lucy as a spy, intelligence officer, whatever she purports to be. Her undercover work in Marrakech is haphazard, her relationship stilted and unbelieveable, and the famous Diane Johnson sense of irony missing altogether. Don't buy it; I'll send you mine.
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Format: Hardcover
A lot of Johnson's readers seem to have expected Lulu in Marrakech to be just like La Divorce. How can it be, when French and English speakers' misunderstandings are so tempered by our cultural similarities and long joint history of Western thought?

Johnson (like Lulu) clearly does not understand Morocco as well as she does Paris. How can she when the cultural setting doesn't allow her to meet any Moroccan women except as objects of charitable efforts? How can average Moroccan women understand us, if they are forbidden to either read or attend social functions with Westerners?

And how can Islamic conservatives join a dialogue with us when, as Lulu notes, they clearly cannot say out loud what they think: that our women look and act like whores (by their standards), that we can't meet in groups without the aid of alcohol, and that Westerners who travel to the Middle East don't even seem to honor their own religion, never mind respecting people whose religious principles direct every part of their life?

Johnson plays Lulu's inability to access Moroccan culture against a myriad of perspectives presented both by the other characters and by her chapterhead quotes from seemingly everyone on earth: from the Koran through Edith Wharton, Joseph Conrad and William E. Colby to someone named Orhan Pamuk, whom Johnson quotes saying,

"And now you've aired all your smug Western views, probably even having a few laughs deep down at our expense . . . but by inflicting your own naive ideas on us, by rhapsodizing about the Western pursuit of happiness and justice, you've clouded our thinking."

We've clouded our own thinking as well -- just think of America's recent accomplishments in the areas of happiness and justice.
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Format: Paperback
This is NOT a "nice" book! During the first third of the book I couldn't figure out if I was reading a spy novel or 'glorified' chic-lit. I was often angry at what I was reading. I found the main character lacking in plausability (as a spy), she was naive and her cover name (LuLu? huh?). At many points the reading experience was tedious and approaching boring. Even some of the scenes that would, in the hands of another author be exploited(such as LuLu's disarming a potential suicide bomber) are written in a somewaht bland manner. A previous reviewer commented that the book is filled with factual errors, I have no reason to doubt this. Wow, thats alot of negative commentary! So why the 5 stars?

About two thirds into the book, I viewed a Youtube clip of Diane Johnson answering questions about her collaboration with Stanley Kubrick (she wrote the screenplay for "The Shining") and I thought, this is NOT a woman plagued by ambiguity! And so, I came to realize, all the negative qualities and experiences that I listed previously, actually worked to tell this story. This is not a 'nice' book because the story presented is NOT a 'nice' story! If you have ever read Paul Bowles (The Spider's House) and interpreted his work as a warning for the failures of colonialism, exploitation, oportunistic intervention and hypocracy of geo-political 'whims', LuLu in Marrakech is the result. As such, I read LuLu in a broader sense, not just as a story that takes place in Morocco. To me, LuLu, the Crumley's, Madamme Frank and the Cotters were all (yes possibly cliches) metaphors for American, British and French exploitation throughout the Arab and Persian worlds...beginning post WW1 and continuing today. Ms. Johnson chooses her words VERY carefully. She almost writes with a poet's sensibility.
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