Moon over Marrakech: Nazneen Sheikh's sun-drenched memoir of passionate but troubled love

A sneak peek at The Next Chapter (01/31/11)

Nazneen Sheikh loves Morocco. And Morocco, it seems, loves her too.

Among the souvenirs the Toronto author has brought back from her many travels to the country — the furniture, camel-skin lamps and fine carpets — are memories of two passionate and troubled love affairs. She first went to Morocco on a fairy tale honeymoon with her husband Cesar. She returned many years later and became romantically involved with Khadim, the man who served as Sheikh and Cesar's private tour guide during that honeymoon trip.

All of the passion and pain of those complicated love affairs is poured into her memoir, Moon over Marrakech, beginning with the moment when she first laid eyes on Cesar. Twelve years her senior, a successful psychiatrist and physically beautiful, Cesar was captivating.

"He was like the sun king," Sheikh told host Shelagh Rogers in a recent interview on The Next Chapter. "He seduced the world, and it was seduced by him willingly."

It was Cesar who first introduced Sheikh to Morocco and Marrakech on their honeymoon, calling it a place even more exotic than she was. From the moment she stepped foot in their hotel, she was seduced.

Back in Toronto and a decade into their marriage, however, the romantic idyll comes to a crashing halt when Cesar mysteriously disappears for five months. When he eventually does return, and is diagnosed as bi-polar, everything falls apart. Sheikh is forced to decide whether to accept his refusal to take medication for his condition, or to leave and regain her independence.

She chooses the latter, and years later, returns to Marrakech to look for Khadim. She finds him, and they begin a romance that has her eventually packing up her life in Canada to move to Morocco and become his wife. Little does she know, however, that he has secrets of his own, and they can be just as destructive.

Born out of entries in a journal Sheikh started when Cesar first disappeared, Moon over Marrakech was originally intended as a work of fiction. But at the prodding of her literary agent, Sheikh eventually changed the "she's" to "I's" to produce a startlingly honest memoir.

"I think of myself as a writer," Sheikh said. "The writing defines me and the writing also saved me. And this was the answer, to complete it. This was my story. Something had happened to me, and I wanted it out there."

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