"Lords of the Atlas" - Gavin Maxwell
by Barnaby Rogerson
I asked the negro why they were all dead. He looked at them and he looked back at the great silent kasbahs, and said, ‘I do not know - the hand of Allah lies heavy upon Telouet.’ "Lords of the Atlas" by Gavin Maxwell
This is the last line from Gavin Maxwell’s Lords of the Atlas, a book that I foolishly read when I was a teenager, just beginning to travel on my own around Morocco. It has held me in its grip ever since. It is a powerful and beautifully told story but with no particular edifying heroes to follow, for Maxwell takes you through the murderous twists and turns of the last days of the Independent Sultanate of Morocco and its slow strangulation by French colonial machinations.
In the process, a Berber clan of Highlanders arose to power as agents of the French in the southern Saharan fringes of Morocco. They are the Lords of the Atlas, of the book’s title, a modern but short-lived Oriental dynasty, who could have stepped out of the pages of Renaissance realpolitik blended with a tale from a thousand and one nights.