Imagine the fascinating but terrifying setting of a royal palace, where luxury and fear reign supreme, and where the favourite can be punished for no reason: the narrator is King Hassan II’s storyteller. He has to keep reinventing himself, particularly when his master is dying. He knows that on one side of the door there is power, and on the other freedom. In order to stay, he has had to abandon his wife and children. Abandon his son whom the king has thrown into jail and whose absence has haunted the family for twenty years.
“Everything seemed normal, but nothing really was. With a trail of wan stars, a moonless night shrouded two silhouettes in the palace’s vast courtyard. Sidi walked slowly along the walkways lined with lanterns, orange trees, almond trees and dwarf palms. I followed close behind, my back slightly stooped, a tad obsequious as befits someone escorting the king. He struggled to stay upright with that monster eating away at his entrails and not giving him a moment’s respite. I forced myself to be amusing because it’s my job to make my master laugh.
“Everything seemed normal but nothing is when the lion is on its knees, when its claws are reduced to useless stubs, when he doesn’t frighten anyone anymore, when the dying light in his eyes inspires more pity than terror.”
Mahi Binebine is Morocco’s most famous contemporary painter. He comes from a large, complicated family, and was first a maths teacher, then a painter, sculptor and a novelist with ten books to his name. Les étoiles de Sidi Moumen (Flammarion 2011) was translated into 8 languages and adapted for the big screen by Nabil Ayouch, with the title Horses of God (Awarded a prize at the Cannes Film Festival).
Un conteur d’histoires sait que le pouvoir est d’un côté de la porte, et la liberté de l’autre. Car, pour rester au service de Sa Majesté, mon père a renoncé à sa femme et ses enfants. Il a abandonné mon frère à ses fantômes. Son fils, mon frère, dont l’absence a hanté vingt ans ma famille. Quelles sont les raisons du « fou » et celles du père ?
Destin terriblement solitaire, esclavage consenti…
Tout est-il dérisoire en ce bas monde ? Mon père avait un étrange goût de la vie. Cela fait des années que je cherche à le raconter. Cette histoire, je vous la soumets, elle a la fantaisie du conte lointain et la gravité d’un drame humain. »