The Lioness of Morocco

Written by Christiane Galvani (trans.) Julia Drosten
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1835, Sibylla is rescued from a near-drowning accident at the London docks by Benjamin, a conniving clerk in her father’s shipping company. At 23, Sibylla is attractive but still single, plus she’s headstrong and has progressive views—she’d even boxed one impudent suitor’s ears! She’s attracted to Benjamin, and with encouragement from her parents, they marry. At Sibylla’s prompting, her father selects Benjamin to fill a vacancy as the company’s agent in Mogador, Morocco, and she accompanies him there. Sibylla happily escapes the confines of pre-Victorian England to exotic Morocco, where she relishes in her freedom. They establish their new home and start a family. She appreciates the Berber culture and even starts a successful business of her own. Benjamin loves wealth more than he loves Sibylla, however, and, feeling neglected, she grows enamored of a handsome French soldier. Benjamin recklessly enters into shady deals and is arrested. Sibylla must decide whether to assist Benjamin or to leave him.

The Lioness was an Amazon bestseller in Germany. Although the English translation could use some structural and stylistic improvements, the story’s premise is alluring. The portrayal of Sibylla as a strong-willed woman who travels willingly to a foreign country instead of living a life of luxury, and who runs a flourishing trading business, is depicted well. While Benjamin isn’t interested in Arab culture, Sibylla’s open-mindedness to all things Moroccan, her business acumen, and willingness to take risks, all propel the novel forward. Through Sibylla’s travels and dealings with local people, we learn a fair amount about Morocco, its land, and the culture, cuisine, and philosophy of Berber society. Although light on coverage of world events, the novel is a thought-provoking historical romance.