ISABELLE: The Life of Isabelle Eberhardt by Annette Kobak

ISABELLE: The Life of Isabelle Eberhardt

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Fascinating biography of a brilliant, tormented eccentric. Eberhardt's journeys (dressed as an Arab boy) among the nomads of North Africa made her a turn-of-the-century legend, her reputation as an enigma enhanced by the mystery of her childhood, her mystical belief in her own destiny, and her death in a flash flood at age 29. Eberhardt (also the subject of Cecily Mackworth's fine The Destiny of Isabelle Eberhardt, 1975) was brought up in Geneva, daughter of a wayward Russian aristocrat and her lover, an anarchist and lapsed priest who first entered the household as tutor to the children. Like T.E. Lawrence, Eberhardt was self-tortured by her illegitimacy, attracted to the Arab world, and was most herself when in disguise. Unlike Lawrence, her spiritual strivings coexisted with a sometimes voracious sexuality. After becoming a sincere Muslim and student of the Koran, fluent in colloquial Arabic, she was initiated into a mystic brotherhood and moved freely among Arabs (who realized she was not a boy but courteously accepted the image she wished to present). Her writings about North African life and culture challenged beliefs in European superiority. Kobak (translator of Eberhardt's only published novel, Vagabond) applies psychological insight to her subject's chronic depression and, with access to uncatalogued military files, reviews her problems with French colonial authorities (who tried to prevent her marriage to an Algerian lover and may have been implicated in an attempted assassination of her by a Muslim factionalist). Engrossing, as Kobak illuminates a woman whose inner journeys were as difficult as her dangerous travels.

Pub Date: April 10th, 1989
ISBN: 394-57691-8
Publisher: Knopf
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