"At this point they had just crossed the Atlantic for the first time since 1939, with a great deal of luggage and the intention of keeping as far as possible from the places which had been touched by the war."

Captured German Soldiers in French Morocco, 1943
Public DomainCaptured German Soldiers in French Morocco, 1943 - Credit: U.S. Army
The war referred to is the Second World War. Morocco had been partitioned between France and Spain since 1912, with France controlling the south and Spain occupying the country's far north. Tangier, if that is where you to choose to believe the novel's opening takes place, had been an international zone since 1923 under the joint administration of France, Spain and Britain, later joined by Italy, Portugal and Belgium. Nationalist political parties had begun using World War II declarations to argue for Moroccan independence but this was not achieved until 1956, when Tangier gave up its international status to join the rest of the country.

It is likely, however, as Michael Hofmann writes, that the Moresbys disembark at Oran in Algeria, not Tangier in Morocco. Algeria had fallen to the French in 1831, having been under Ottoman rule since 1792. During World War II, the Vichy government held on to Oran until it was captured by the Allies in 1942. At that time, the city had one of the highest proportions of Europeans of any city in North Africa.