This disappointing second novel from the author of Memory of Departure (1988) never quite gets off the ground, although the language is simple and appealing. The setting is precolonial north Africa. At the age of 12, Yusuf is taken away from his home by Aziz, a rich merchant, in payment for a debt of his father's. What follows is a series of events and episodes: Yusuf works in Aziz's shop alongside Khalil, a friendly and talkative young man who tells Yusuf he is also working to pay off his father's debts, although his father is dead; Yusuf is suddenly summoned to go on a journey ``to the interior''; Yusuf is left in the care of a couple who work him very hard; Yusuf is collected again by Aziz for a long and difficult journey. During their travels many men grow ill, and there are the expected hardships of life on the road with a caravan. There is much talk of the encroaching Europeans and a good deal of sexual teasing of Yusuf, whose physical beauty makes him an object of desire. But the whole adds up to less than the sum of its parts. Because Yusuf is young and naive, and the narrative--while in the third person--cleaves close to his impressions, it's never exactly clear what's happening. Larger cultural issues, and the setting itself, are difficult to see through the forest of minutiae.