THE FEARFUL VOID by Geoffrey Moorhouse
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In 1973, Geoffrey Moorhouse, following the break-up of his marriage, decided to cross the great Sahara desert alone, by camel. Not merely as one of those because-it-was-there-challenges or indurating ordeals of courage, but partly ""to explore an extremity of human experience"" and even more to overcome that ""fearful void"" -- the fear which exists in all of us whether of loss or annihilation. While the facts of the journey were to change considerably (he had native companions of sorts along the way) and it ended in a partial defeat, he prepared himself well, or so it seemed, learning to speak Arabic and to read the stars and to ride a camel. The first phase to Tombouctou took ten disemboweling and exhausting weeks through a wilderness of sand with not only its glaring heat but gelid cold; lice and grit everywhere; basic rations of wheat and rice and fat (and worse) and unpotable water -- dung floating on a well. After a six day stopover in Tombouctou he proceeded to the next stop with the old, incontinent Mohammed who became increasingly debilitated by his ""woman sickness""; on the last stage of the attempted crossing, he not only gets lost but runs out of water. Throughout, the attempt (which to some degree triumphs over that void) is strengthened by a recently acquired religion -- God is the point of reference -- by images in the mind's eye or memories of the past which distract him from the foot-and-saddle sore prostration. . . . Moorhouse is an experienced, precise observer and he has already shown his sound sense of history, here internalized as he looks for other unrecorded dusty answers. There is always an audience for that singular test of courage (from that bluff mariner Chichester to more recently Robertson's Survive the Savage Sea -- he writes whorls around both) but it's the audience to try because it too is there. In any case a stunning, stirring account which ascends beyond physical endurance to those higher possibilities which sustain and justify and redeem.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1974
Publisher: Lippincott