Allah’s Garden: a True Story of a Forgotten War in the Sahara Desert of Morocco
Fez- Thomas Hollowell published Allah’s Garden in 2009. The story occurs mostly in the Moroccan Sahara, formerly known as the Spanish Sahara during the colonial period (1884-1975). Spain divided this colony into two parts Saqia El Hamra and Rio de Oro.
The main character of the story is one of the longest captured prisoners of war in the Sahara: Dr. Azeddine Benmasour, a Moroccan practitioner of Medicine. Benmasour was held for more than 24 years in the camps of the terrorist group, Polisario. No coincidence the writer dedicates his novel to “Azeddine and pure human courage”.
Hollowell first came to know about Morocco through Moroccan students studying in Wabash University, Indiana. Tangier, at a stone’s throw South of Spain, as the writer describes the Moroccan city was the main gate through which the Moroccan students ushered Hollowell to this mystic country: The vivid tangerine orange painting the peaceful sky of the beach at sunset, God-made cave of Hercules and the foamy blue waters of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic seas meeting at the strait of Gibraltar are all mythological picturesque imageries.
The nature fascination will blend with the literary one when Hollowell learned that American icons such as Paul Bowles succumbed to the city’s charm and were magically rewarded by a generous muse of writing. Thomas Hollowell’s narrative equally embodies this fascination with land and culture. He described cities, towns, villages, Souks (open weekly markets), mountains and the Sahara. He even likens the topography of the Moroccan Sahara to that of California.
Thomas Hollowell was posted in Morocco to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2002. However, it was only after he had finished his field work with Peace Corps that he met his protagonist, Dr. Azeddine Benmansour. Hollowell worked at al Akhawayn University, Ifrane- Morocco after the experience of the Peace Corps. It was there where he met a student who acted as a liaison with Dr. Benmansour.
In fact, the narrative is based on the many hours of tape interviews Thomas Hollowell carried with his story main character. The writer conducted research about politics, languages (Moroccan Darija, French, Tamazight, Hassania), history and culture. Consequently, he thrived in threading the fictive with the real. As matter of fact, the main line of the story, the prisoner’s life, proves that Hollowell’s preparatory reading led him through the subtle masterpiece of “L’horreur” authored by the Moroccan Abdellah Lamani.
Allah’s Garden is genuinely an epic account of a former POW (prisoner of war). It is a story of a captive who struggled all along a quarter of a century to survive torture, starvation, isolation…etc to defy death. The writer excelled in the mission of unmasking the many atrocities committed by the Polisario since 1973. Undeniably, Thomas Hollowell succeeded in conveying sound and imagery as if the reader is live watching the true story of Azeddine in agony: the horrendous chores Dr. Benmansour was put to during his captivity, the inhumane treatment of a POW, the degenerated state of health, deprivation from medicine…etc.
Allah’s Garden is a succinct description of a humanitarian disaster in the deep camps of a terrorist group. Unfortunately and for many years, the international community was blinded by Polisario and its allies in the region. Many humanitarian NGO’s never had full access to the captivity camps to stand upon the sheer violation of the Geneva convention that establishes the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of war.
The articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) extensively defined the basic, wartime rights of prisoners (civil and military); established protections for the wounded; and established protections for the civilians in and around a war-zone. The striking description of the dozen Moroccan wounded soldiers put to death is a powerful scene testifying about one of the unlimited violations committed by Polisario.
Finally, the use of local language snippets (Moroccan Darija, French) gave the narrative and the conversations of the characters a cross cultural meaning. The novel is undoubtedly worth implementing in the syllabi of Language and Arts in high schools where English is the first language. It may equally be subject to research by university student majoring in Cultural studies, Literature of captivity or even Human rights literature.
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