It’s every traveler’s nightmare: Your bags, ID, money, and mobile are stolen in a foreign land. You have no contacts, no one to trust or to bail you out. Your identity is gone in a flash, and you are… who?
Written in the second-person, this story opens with an unnamed narrator on a plane from Miami to Casablanca. She is ‘you’ but not you, a distinction that does nothing to alleviate the unsettling atmosphere that pervades this taut story from the get-go: This is the second leg of your trip… and the distance traveled has already muted the horror of the last two months.
We know a tragedy has befallen our heroine, and she’s on the run to Morroco. Even the guide book she flips through to distract herself has an ominous tone: The first thing to do upon arriving in Casablanca is get out of Casablanca. She has booked a room for three nights in Casablanca; it is, perhaps, a bad omen.
She settles into the flight, battling mild paranoia — does she recognize that woman across the aisle? and why would that be a problem? — and eventually arrives at her hotel, a down-market tourist spot called The Golden Tulip.
At check-in, distracted and hobbled by the rigors of jetlag, someone steals her nondescript black backpack. Inside is everything that identifies her as her (you as you): passport, laptop, credit cards, cash, camera, toiletries, a pair of coral earrings.
This troubling loss sets off a chain of events that takes surprising turns — and the use of the word ‘you’ becomes hypnotic, almost a mantra that puts us in the thick of the story. Other characters are identified not by name, but by description — the tattooed man, the serious secretary — a tactic that keeps us off balance, and our heroine at arms’-length from the people around her.
Cut adrift from her identity both by geography and paperwork, she becomes a chameleon and a mirror, reflecting back to people what they need her to be. As she moves further from her real life, we learn more about the tragic events that sent her on the run. And that insidious use of ‘you’ forces us to consider how we’d react in similar situations, even as we marvel at the puzzling decisions she makes.
Author Vendela Vida has taken everything from our antiheroine and dropped her in a hostile environment — the grit and menace and swelter of Casablanca sizzle on the page. As time stretches and contracts in the haze of the city, it’s easy to understand the seductive possibilities of simply becoming someone else when the true self is too painful to live.
Noirishly dark, this novel is a gleefully wicked examination of how we recognize ourselves when we’re detached from everything we think defines us.
Your plan was to go to Fez, to Marrakech, to the desert, but these places no longer have appeal. You try to imagine when they did have appeal. You try to remember the person you were when planning this very trip. — Vendela Vida
Pssst… enjoy this illustrated version of Rumi’s poem The Diver’s Clothes Lying Empty which gave this novel its title.
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is © 2022 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.