Elias Canetti must be one of the more obscure winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1981). Also, one of the more eclectic. His most noted works are "Auto-da-Fé", his only novel and a modernistic, apocalyptic tour de force; "Crowds and Power", a treatise of political/sociological philosophy; and THE VOICES OF MARRAKESH, a travel book. Just as "Auto-da-Fe" and "Crowds and Power" are singular works, VOICES too is idiosyncratic, unlike virtually all predecessor works of its genre.
The book was written, or at least first published, in the mid-Sixties, and it consists of impressions of a visit to Marrakesh from, it appears to me, just before Moroccan independence - in other words, the early Fifties. But details of time are not important in VOICES, and the book evinces a feel of timelessness.
Camels, beggars, souk merchants, storytellers, street urchins, koubbas, the Mellah (the Jewish quarter), scribes, marabouts, and more beggars. That is Canetti's Marrakesh, as sketched in limpid, minimalistic prose. Some of the incidents are so outlandish that I sense that Canetti is pulling the leg of his credulous reader. But there is no denying the charm, the mystery, and a certain otherworldliness of the book. THE VOICES OF MARRAKESH vacillates between the two themes of Canetti's overall work - humanism and the masses - and in the end seems to marry them in the bundle of rags that is plopped in the middle of the Djema el Fna emitting a deep, long-drawn-out, buzzing "e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-".