A modest group of 30 people turned out on a balmy, fall evening to hear Diane Johnson read from her latest novel LuLu in Marrakech. The novel is the story of 30-something LuLu Sawyer, a C.I.A. operator dispatched to Marrakech, Morocco, to help trace the flow of money from well-heeled donors to radical Islamic groups. She is hoping as well to rekindle her romance with the worldly Brit, Ian Drumm.
Diane is an elderly, gracious woman who had flown in from NYC that afternoon; I surmised she must have been a tad tuckered out from her travels, but she proved quite the trooper, kindly personalizing books prior to her reading. She is the author of the highly praised, loosely based trilogy of novels - Le Divorce, Le Mariage, and L’ Affaire -about naïve Americans living abroad in Paris. (Indeed, Diane appeared quite pumped about departing in 5 days for her own annual, six month stay in France.) She is also a two-time Pulitzer Prize and three-time National Book Award nominee (“Give the poor woman an award, already!” I crowed during my intro – Diane did giggle at this.)
The author read several short excerpts, focusing on different characters and their various outlooks/attitudes toward the Moroccan culture and its people. In a nice touch, Diane inflected the dialogue with the appropriate accent (English, French) of the character speaking. Her husband, who was present and apparently serves as her “timekeeper”, gave her an affectionate wave after she had read for some 15 minutes.
During Q&A people were quite interested in Morocco. Diane mentioned that Marrakech has become very much the tourist destination - beautiful hotels, organized tour guides and such. Those wanting a more authentic experience should visit the city of Fez, a place of deep, historical significance. In answer to one person’s question, the majority of people speak French, not English (which makes sense for a country once a French colony). Diane mentioned that the native population remains rather ambivalent toward the French.
Interestingly, Diane couldn’t pinpoint exactly the source of her decision to make the protagonist an American operative – her admiration of Graham Greene notwithstanding. She did mention that since staying in France she has noticed a strange pattern: she’s repeatedly crossing paths with various members of the C.I.A. (Which actually came in handy: Sally Colby - wife of some C.I.A bigwig - vetted many of the book’s details.)
Diane said she is currently at work on a collection of short stories titled Men on Top, tales involving doctors, sheiks, generals, movie directors, etc.) The author chose as her gift book David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames (“He’s a neighbor of mine in Paris”).
contributed by Terry Meagher