“The Forgiven” by Lawrence Osborne – An Incident in Morocco

“The Forgiven” by Lawrence Osborne (2012) – 272 pages

 “Between the two men there existed a mental chasm – centuries of antagonism and mutual ignorance,”


 Young husband and wife David and Jo Henniger rent a car at Tangier in Morocco to drive to an extravagant weekend party being held five hours south of there.  The hosts are Dally Margolis and Richard Galloway, rich male lovers who live in an ancient mansion or ‘ksour’; they throw a wild profligate party to which they invite many rich Europeans and Americans.  The Muslims living near the mansion are hired as servants and staff for which they are paid well, but secretly they were “outraged by the presence of the infidels in a place built expressly for Muslims”.   Here is how the Moroccan Muslims look on their wealthy European and American visitors.

“It was not just their alcoholic habits which were extreme even by the abject standards of Europeans.  Nor was it just their distasteful sexual habits, though there was much to say about those….They swam naked in their own swimming pool, and sometimes – God forbid it – in the pools of the Source des Poissons, contaminating the source…People said there were naked boys asleep on the floors, boys everywhere and some of them Moroccans.“

$11Lawrence Osborne has spent most of his adult life writing non-fiction travel books.  He did write one novel, “Ania Malina”, back in 1986, but wrote no other fiction until now with this novel “The Forgiven”.    According to Wikipedia, “Osborne was educated at Cambridge and Harvard, and has since led a nomadic life, residing for years in France, Italy, Morocco, the United States, Mexico, Thailand, and Istanbul.”  All of his travel experience pays off in “The Forgiven”.  This is the most perceptive novel I’ve read about the interaction of Europeans/Americans and Muslims.  Most novels written by Europeans/Americans have the white foreigners viewing the natives as they would animals in a zoo, pointing out the traits they observe.  “The Forgiven” gives us a more accurate picture by presenting the Europeans/Americans at this wild party with their use of alcohol and sex drives in full tilt while the Muslims observe them.  Also since most writers haven’t had that much experience in Muslim lands, they present the stereotypical Muslims as harsh, rigid, and intransigent.   “The Forgiven” goes beyond these over-simplifications and gets inside the complex minds of the Muslim characters. 

“The Forgiven” has an intense interesting story and I strongly recommend that everyone read this novel.   I’ve been looking for a long time to find a novelist who, like Graham Greene and Paul Theroux, could present life in foreign lands with an expert depth.   This novel which will entertain you will also change the way you view the Muslim world.

5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by acommonreaderuk on December 7, 2012 at 8:08 AM

    Sounds like a fascinating book Tony. I recently saw an Iranian film and was surprised to find that it depicted a rather wise family court system that perhaps did better than our own one’s do. You also admire Paul Theroux? I think he’s a great writer


    • Hi Tom,
      I discovered Paul Theroux fairly early in his career in the middle Seventies. His first book that became real popular was the non-fiction ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’. I read that and then got heavy into his fiction. He has a strong book this year with ‘The Lower River’.
      I purchased Theroux’s book ‘The Kindom by the Sea’ which is Theroux’s non-fiction book about England, because I think and still think his ‘take’ on England would be fascinating. But by the time that book came out, I had pretty much given up on non-fiction, and it still sits on my bookshelf unread. I still think this would be a fascinating book to read.


  2. I saw that film too, Tom, it was brilliant. What was it called? I wish there were a website like GoodReads where I could log the films I’ve seen!


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