A Riffian's Tune
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Reviews of ‘A Riffian’s Tune’

Ronald Lansdell – 6th September 2015

I have enjoyed reading your book which I found very moving. With my recent knowledge of Morocco I found your childhood autobiography a very powerful tale of survival through your quest for education. Your story is very current with the thousands of migrants seeking refuge from poverty and oppression in their home countries. With my best wishes and thanks for your amazing recorded example of success through scholarship.

Kay JayEss – 3rd July 2015 ★★★★★:

“You HAVE to read this book!
I bought this book after meeting the author about 18 months ago, and once I started reading it I felt truly humbled to have been in his presence. It is such a riveting read – to discover the things Jusef went through makes you feel so humbled; each obstacle in his life makes you want him to succeed even more. You simply can’t put the book down! This novel deserves an award – it is beautifully written; the descriptions pull you firmly to each place, and the depiction of each character makes you feel as if you met them yourself. It is a truly heart-wrenching read. It makes me want to go back to Edinburgh (where I stayed at his b&b), give Joseph M Labaki a massive hug, and ask him all about his life. Thank you for writing your story X”

Angie Stormer – June 6, 2015 ★★★★:

This book was written in the form of an autobiographical novel, some of it is true and some fiction. The main character Jusef was born in 1950 but throughout the book there are no dates or time periods to follow making it impossible to follow his age or how long events such as his schooling took. This read is a very sad look into the lives of the people of Morrocco. The children have no childhood and go to work as soon as they are physically able to do a job. If a male child like Jusef insisted on attending school, he would be required to leave and make his own way at such a young age. Not having a time frame made it hard yet I am sure he started living on his own even before puberty. For females, they are sold off to a husband and his family making her their property. Females are abused, raped, only their hymen has any worth. That has not changed in the Arabic culture. This book has a great prose yet the story dragged in many parts. The most inspiring aspect of the book are the hopes and wants the male children have for a better life beyond anything else, I ever read or seen. They will live in squalor, be malnourished, doing whatever it takes to survive obtaining themselves a better place in this world. Multiple aspects of the story are left unanswered. The book just comes to an end with no real conclusion. After reading and getting to know the main character you as a reader will be able to construct yourself a proper conclusion. This would be a favorable book for readers who are interested in that culture or wants to know about how that culture lives. “Thank You NetGalley For Letting Me Give An Honest Review”

Emily Wright – May 17, 2015 ★★★★★ :

From the very first page I was captured by the beautiful writing style, and I could not put it down until I was finished. This book was so wonderfully crafted, and I would not change a thing. This author is one to look out for!

S Rolson – January 2015:

Seen through the eyes of Jusef, we are provided with an incredibly insightful view of the challenges of a young boy held captive by language and culture. With a supreme dose of resolve and the mantra of “I will not succumb,” Jusef attacks any blockage placed before him. The challenges usually result from provincial attitudes of those closely related to him. Recognizing that music and numbers are not inherently evil in and of themselves, he sets out to master both. In the process, he learns to live in peace with animals, as well as people form different cultures. People can be cruel as death, but that does not deter his desire for knowledge. He is willing to pay any price because he recognizes that ignorance is the real evil that must be overcome.

Labaki weaves complicated inter-familial relationships into Jusef’s trek for learning. They add incredible depth to the story and provide necessary insight to help readers understand the gravity of challenges Jusef faces. Occasionally, these individuals can be helpful. Unfortunately, they too often represent roadblocks to stymie Jusef’s progress. A surprising twist at the end of the tale encourages readers to reflect on all those inter-related individuals.

Alan Tomlinson – October 2014:

I have just finished ‘A Riffian’s Tune’ which I bought at the Edinburgh book festival, where I think I passed you giving out flyers for your novel. I read the tale in one sitting because it is so gripping – and gets even more so to the very end. I started reading it after reading ‘The French Intifada’ by Andrew Hussey, which as you may know covers the history and consequences of French colonialism in North Africa. ‘The Tune’ certainly gives a strong sense of the terrible consequences for Moroccans, but beyond that, it is a well-told and gripping story in itself. Insofar as it is autobiographical, I have the greatest respect for your achievements against such odds. I will recommend ‘A Riffian’s Tune’ to my friends, including the one who put us up when we visited Edinburgh.

Greg Mosse – September 2014:

Just finished #ariffianstune by @jospephmlabaki – loved it – must give back to @katemosse who got it at @edbookfest

Nigel Masterton – July 2014 ★★★★ :

If Joseph Labaki endured a fraction of the hardship described in this book in order to acquire his education, it is a thing to be marvelled at. Jusef, our hero, just refuses to give up in his desire to acquire the qualifications that will give him a real chance in life. He fights chronic illness, passes on an opportunity to find love, risks his life trying to earn money and yet finds time to support his mother and sisters. Most of us just go to school! This book re-enforces the mantra that education is the key to really changing society. Let’s hope Jusef found a future that justified his incredible efforts to acquire knowledge.

Coral Howard – July 2014 ★★★★★ :

I couldn’t believe the struggle and dedication it took for Jusef to go to school, something I have always taken for granted. It was an amazing tale which I just wanted to keep reading. Brilliant.

Antoinette Botsford – March 2014:

This is about you, I believe.  I hope it is the first part of a two-part biography.    How many languages are you now speaking?  Do you still play the flute?  What a breath-taking, interesting book you have written!  BUT it seems unfinished…

Mary Young – March 2014 ★★★ :

This is the story of Jusef, who was born in the Rif mountains (Morocco). Desiring an education, he gave up his way of life and moved to the city, determined to forge a new path in life. During the summers he traveled back home and found creative way to make enough money to survive the next school year.

I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with this book. I do enjoy reading about other cultures, but I’m not sure how much this book really told me. In addition, it was a hard to get a feel for hold old Jusef was throughout the book. Seasons passed quickly, sometimes he went in great detail and at other times he skimmed through his life. Further, the book ends fairly abruptly. It is in desperate need of a few more chapters or at the least, an epilogue.

Shannon Perry – March 2014:

The author did a great job of drawing me in to this story, particularly as it is so outside my realm. I felt such sympathy for this boy, who against all odds, wished for more. Other characters seemed to struggle against the difficult circumstances of fate and culture. Very moving.

Lynn Price – March 2014:

For us in America, for whom much is easily obtained, this novel is a jolting eye-opener! Jusef lives in the mountains of Morocco, and Jusef wants to go to school.

The school is far away – a journey by foot and by bus and by truck and by train.

This book is his diary. The dire living conditions he must accept. The unspeakable poverty that defines his every decision. The work that he must do during the summer break in order to be able to return for the next semester. But he is exceptionally bright. He perseveres.

In the background, we have his sisters who are in abusive marriages, his mother who is a widow whose only means of support is Jusef, and land that must be farmed and harvested.

A stunning look at one child’s struggle to learn.

Maura Ryan – February 2014 ★★★★ :

A heartbreaking yet inspirational story. I would certainly recommend this to most people. The plot moves fairly slowly, but only because of the incredible detail and side-stories.

John McClure – February 2014 ★★★★:

Jusef is born into a life of traditional culture that is common in the tribal districts of Morocco. He soon becomes disillusioned with a life of being a shepherd for his families and neighbours small flocks. He then strives to be educated, much against the wish of his family. This is the point where he really begins to struggle, as he falls into a life of poverty and near starvation as he fulfills his dream.

Just being determined is not enough when he discovers that he is fighting religious militants who physically fight against education.

This autobiography is an enlightening experience that should be provided for our teenaged readers. Without doubt our more mature readers will have a lot to learn when they compare with their life to date.

Claire Illand – February 2014 ★★★★★ :

A Superb Autobiography

The story of Jusef’s life growing up in the Rif Mountains in Morocco is both humbling and inspirational. This book will draw you into his life through colourful and eloquent writing. A Fantastic read. Hoping for the next chapter in his life soon!

K Schaefer – February 2014:

Today I finished your Autobiography and am deeply touched and inspired. To read it with determination I took more than a whole day off and was completely absorbed. Thank you for signing it for me in Edinburgh and good luck with it – I am sure it will find it´s way to many readers throughout the world and would wish to help you somehow to have it translated into german.

Kitchen Mess – February 2014 ★★★★ :

Enjoyed this book because it told the story of a very different way of life….Fascinating indeed! would recommend to anybody who enjoys reading life stories.

Publishers Weekly – January 2014:

The autobiographical novel of a Moroccan boy’s solo climb from the grip of poverty, ignorance, tradition, superstition and religion; rich with culture, humor and deeply moving stories.

Isobel Mackay – January 2014:

It comes alive from page 1. You portray so vividly yet economically the poverty, the ignorance, the customs and the cruelty, the inequalities and the opposition to education and the complete lack of love and human kindness in the boy’s life, that the reader sympathises with him and suffers with him in the slums of Fez. Even cleaned up now for tourists, Fez is the image that leaps into my mind when someone says ‘medieval life’, yet in the fifties and sixties this boy still has to fight incredible odds just to be educated.

You convey very honestly the vulnerability and the emotions of Josef as he fights barrier after barrier and claws his way back from each disaster refusing to give up his struggle for a better life, yet realising it comes at a great personal cost. He is afraid as often as he is brave, which makes him human, and we the readers long for a happy ending, which does not happen — only a note of hope; and only another book can fulfil the hopes of your readers. There must be another story to be told before you reached the calms of Edinburgh…I hope you play the flute.

Benny Tetteh-Lartey  – January 2014 ★★★★★ :

Riveting and Deeply Moving

When I started to read this book I felt immediately drawn to continue at every opportunity. The story begins with the harrowing events of a young child’s life in rural Morocco but just when I expected and hoped young Jusef’s life would improve it not only became worse but every aspect declined to the point where I could not see how he could have had any hope at all. I felt like I had been drawn to his side(so to speak)in the hope that good news would soon come to him.

As a musician myself I resonate with Jusef’s attempts to regain a sense of peace through his music but even with a musical talent he was interrupted in the most upsetting way. Nevertheless he continues to strive for a better life.

Despite being deeply moved by the immense trials in the life of a boy so young there were many moments where I laughed aloud at some dry humour and interesting descriptions. The story is rich to the core and I was captivated with each new event. It became easy to see a very interesting film which could be based on this book.

The sentencing is very well crafted which allows for easy reading not to mention the high quality of the paper and print. I now have three copies so I can share with friends and family. (I am also looking forward to any follow up in the future).

The whole experience has been truly inspirational and I take this opportunity to wish Joseph Labaki every success with “A Riffian’s Tune”

Jackie K  – January 2014 ★★★★★ :

A brilliant tale of a young boy making his way in a hard world.

I loved this book from the beginning. It’s a very colourful story of a young boy trying to make his way in a hard world, growing up and looking to better himself (against all the odds at times). It is well written and you felt part of his world and wanted him to succeed. He is a determined character and pushes on when many others would have long since given up.

A Silena  – January 2014 ★★★★★ :


Utterly fascinating! Should be a bestseller!

I loved this story and was captivated by Jusef and his ambition. I couldn’t put it down. Joseph M Labaki knows how to tell a story! I’m anxiously awaiting the sequel.

It transported me to a time and place I’ve never been – Morocco. It caught my emotion and held me in its grip from the very first page. Bravo!

Ardie  – January 2014 ★★★★ :

A fascinating narrative about a lifestyle and culture I know very little about.

Felicity Gibson  – January 2014 ★★★★ :

When I started A Riffians tune, it struck me as a simple novel set in the Moroccan countryside; a story of plain living and farm life.  Don’t get me wrong, I like such novels with details of basic living and the hand to mouth existence of the lower strata of society in developing countries.  From a bland beginning the reader has no idea of the hopes of a little boy living from hand to mouth. Set in the heart of the rural Rig mountains, this little boy’s life is dictated by tribal tradition, superstition and religion. He moves from nothing – with hopes and dreams; he shifts to the big town, Fez to get an education.   This book reads like a diary and yet it is a travel novel.  It is a magnificent read.  Each page will hold you in its clutches and squeeze from you so much emotion and the need to keep turning the pages.  How on earth will this little boy endure the obstacles? Moroccan culture is seen from the inside, both the positive and the negative. The story overflows with tragedies, courage and triumphs. Those on the fringe of society are powerless.  The main character Jesuf shows the reader the power of hope and the strength to believe in a positive future.  I absolutely loved this book and wished it had carried on further . This book deserves the 4 ½ stars. I read this book courtesy of Netgalley and thank them very much for the pleasure.

A wonderful book. I loved every minute. I gave it 4 1/2 stars because of the ending. I wanted more. Please ask the author for a sequel! Thank you so much letting me read this book. It is really a New Year Gift. I am recommending this book to many, many people.

Yul  – December 2013 ★★★★★ :

I enjoyed reading this book as it was very well written.

Its a real diary, its a travel novel, its an incredible tale of self superation and its an excellent book.

I loved the fact that it shows perfectly moroccan culture from the inside, both the good side and the bad side. I live in Spain and I have never been to Morocco but I always wondered what life there is like. The book answered it perfectly although its set a few years in the past.

At first I didnt expect anything from the book as the previous one I had won from goodreads was really awful, but A Riffian’s Tune is now one of my favourite books and I really would recomend anyone to give it a try.

Sorry about my english.

Felix  – December 2013 ★★★★★ :

This review is from: A Riffian’s Tune (Paperback)

This book tells a story of perseverance in the midst continuous surmountable and sometimes unsurmountable  obstacles (foreseeable and unforeseeable). It has one surprising intrigue after another leaving me with more questions to ask of some of the characters involved and what happened to them later.

As an African and once a Geography student, I am aware of the harshness of living anywhere near the Sahara Desert in theory, at least, however, I never thought that the issue of water for existence was such a daily struggle. To be honest, sections of this book brought this reality home to me.

This is an easy reading book that easily captivates one’s attention and I do recommend this as a good read for a holiday and for teenagers with big ambitions. The language is easy to understand.

Heather Sowalla  – December 2013 ★★★ :

This book was so rich with culture and history. We see how one boy’s life changed and grew. His surroundings and his life were all about the tribe, the traditions, and the superstitious backbone that they held. They had a different way of life than what Jusef wanted. He wanted more and he was going to do whatever he could do to change his life. I found this book interesting but had a hard time getting through. I wish it would have read more like a fictional piece but being autobiographical you get a lot of filler it seems. It was good but I am not sure I would read again.

Truth Psalm  – November 2013 ★★★ :

With a straight-forward, journalistic writing style, this autobiographical novel is informative but bleak at times. Poverty brings out the worst in some people, especially when survival hangs in the balance. I learned much about Moroccan culture from my reading, and some people do show kindness along the way, but what I felt most while reading this is, “I am so grateful I only have to know this from reading rather than from personal experience.”

I consider A Riffian’s Tune worth reading because I learned from it. Also, the narrator was born shortly after WWII, so maybe enough time has passed, and life is better in Morocco these days. I sure hope it is.

Angela Clifford  – November 2013:

A Riffians Tune: It’s a wonderful experience to get lost in a book, to be caught up in another world and temporarily forget your own life and situations, in one word ‘escape’. And So I escaped into Joseph M Labaki’s world, a life incomprehensible to me; and that is the chief reason I could not put the book down, it pulled me in deep. I struggled to comprehend the lack of morals, the terrible example set by adults, and the cruelty physical mental and emotional. A child wander…ing alone across mountains and terrains, and later barley into his teens going alone into a gangsters world of crime and corruption and  trading currency, it’s a miracle he survived to tell the tale!! Struggling to educate himself with no apparent support from anybody, living in holes in the ground and other various abominable places, finally suffering illnesses with hardly any medical help, my heart ached for him. I was introduced to this book via the ‘Woman Alive Book Club’ so was expecting it to contain at least elements of faith; but not the case,  all that was portrayed were the worst sides to human nature. No guardian Angels or spiritual visions, utter dog eat dog and pure survival. In the final chapters after achieving exam passes and thus  promotion to the living quarters and kitchens of the school, there being sheltered fed and watered  Joseph suddenly finds himself once again  living in hiding desperate to finish his education; ‘C’est Terrible’. It is incomprehensible that an education system and school would allow its pupils to be scattered and fighting for their lives, and still expect them to study, sit, and pass their exams!! I did not see the end coming until the final pages, and I think that must be very good writing indeed. However I still can’t understand why a sister would want to kill an innocent person. Maybe the author can enlighten me on that aspect of his story. Finally Joseph researches and teaches in ‘Phenomenology’ which according to the Oxford English Dictionary translates as: A philosophical doctrine proposed by Edmund Husserl based on the study of human experience in which considerations of objective reality are not taken into account. Give me the doctrine of the’ Trinity’, ‘faith hope and love’, that, and that alone has the power to change the world. Jesus Christ is alive and working in our world today. Angie

Fouad  – October 2013 ★★★★★ :

A beautiful, inspirering story

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This review is from: A Riffian’s Tune (Kindle Edition)

“A Riffian’s tune” is a beautiful, inspirering story. It brings up the authentic athmosphere of poverty and foreign occupation in Northern Morocco.  This story reminds us that onfortunate circumstances do not always dictate the course of an individual.

G Murdoch  – October 2013 ★★★★★ :

This review is from: A Riffian’s Tune (Kindle Edition)

FANTASTIC READ , I found this true life story a brilliant book that took you on a journey through one young boys struggles to educate himselfe in a world that threw every difficult situstion you could imagin. Thoroughly recommend A Riffians Tune gives you a real taste of life in another world.

Alexandra Poupalou  – September 2013 ★★★★★ :

An amazing find!

Amazon Verified Purchase

This review is from: A Riffian’s Tune (Kindle Edition)

I stumbled across ‘A Riffian’s Tune’ while looking for travel books on my kindle app and I was blown away! This book is wonderful. I’d been to Morocco many years ago, and had always kept up an interest in the country, but this book showed me a whole new side; a snapshot of the Morocco on the cusp of independence. The protagonist of the story is Jusef, a shepherding Berber boy from the far north of the country. What follows is his journey as he struggles to leave shepherding behind and make a new life for himself away from the mountains. But it’s really about a lot more than that; every page contains a different little tale, all woven into one big inspirational journey, full of vivid details and unbelievable situations. Joseph Labaki’s writing reminded me of a cross between Hemmingway and Paulo Coelho, having the same simple but elegant style, and the succinct clarity which is so effective in transporting the reader to places and times they would never otherwise see.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘A Riffian’s Tune’. It made me laugh, cry and think and above all is a beautiful book. The only problem is, don’t take it as a travel book – it’s far too engaging!