As Time Goes By

I caught a few minutes of it the other day, grainy black & white, magical.  There was Bogie, in the club, and the piano.

A few days before I’d turned the first page of the latest work from Tahir Shah, a man who knows how to tell a tale.  It’s in his blood, ever since granny eloped from Edinburgh with her Afghan warlord.  And Tahir loves Casablanca, as devotees of his work will know.  It was no surprise to find an un-named mention of Dar Khalifa in Casablanca Blues.

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Having told tales of travel, and stories from the souks, of djinns and guardians, Shah has now turned his not-inconsiderable hand to fiction.  His first, Eye Spy, is awaiting my attention, but Casablanca Blues demanded it quickly, knowing what the city means to the author.  And I was not disappointed.

So here we have a narrative built up around the legacy of the movie which weaves its way to the current day, messages from Bogart himself waiting through dust-covered decades to be handed on.  It’s the Moroccan way of things, family honour, promises binding successors.

I’m not going to tell you what happens, or how it ends.  But there’s an American, obsessed with the movie, and an Argentinian trans-gender pianist in an underground club.  And of course there’s baksheesh, corruption, and beatings.

I enjoyed the story hugely.  And if you’ve been following my previous comments on the author you’ll not be surprised to learn that, despite a dozen books to his name, he’s opted out of the publishing contract to do his own thing.  For Timbuctoo and Scorpion Soup he produced beautiful books; beautiful to touch and to smell and to catch sight of on the shelf.  But both his fiction works published in recent months, and there’s a third due soon, see a little bit less in the investment.  And the product suffers for that.

He’s a great man for social networking, and sharing bits of his life.  There’s some brilliant footage from his library in Casa on his facebook site.

Recent books have been available firstly as a download, then appearing in print.  But the printing is on demand, from Lulu.  So, fine tales that they are, they are bound by those horrible shiny, bendy covers that you get with PoD books, the ones that curl up at the corners, and don’t lie flat.  Bottom shelf jobs.  But then they are fiction, and wouldn’t get to the top shelf anyway, so why not?

Despite the feel in the hand I’ll still read every word.  Shah is a genius with a pen and an idea.  And he’s pretty adept at marketing.  But then publishing is as much a part of his heritage as writing.  And the publishing world for anyone who’s writing these days is very much changing.  Tahir Shah’s just leading the way.  Personally, in his case, I’d look for a hardback all the time, even with his fiction works.  And if Casablanca Blues is anything to go by those covers and binding would be richly deserved.  Go on Sam, read it.

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