IN THE SHADOW OF ISLAM by Isabelle Eberhardt


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A European woman who assumed the persona of a young male Tunisian student describes her remarkable journey into the Sahara in colorful and textured, albeit romanticized, vignettes. In 1897, Isabelle Eberhardt (The Oblivion Seekers, not reviewed), born and raised in Geneva, traveled with her mother to Tunis, where both converted to Islam. Eberhardt spent much of the rest of her life in Algeria; this work comes from notes she made during 1904 as they were later edited and published in France by Victor Barrucand. Despite this cleanup of the notes, some intriguing internal tensions remain: Eberhardt says her male persona (which Arabs respected, even when they saw through it) allows her to travel without attracting notice, but in a low moment she notes that she attracts disapproval. Near the Algeria-Morocco border, she muses with some pleasure that nobody knows precisely where the boundary is, yet soon (in one of the few hints at the region's volatility) she trades her Moroccan attire for Algerian to avoid annoying residents. When individuals and settings attract her eye she describes them vividly and concisely, whether she is passing a madman reciting verses from the Koran or taking tea with male students at a mosque. (Her garb ironically restricts her access to -- and ability to learn about -- women; interestingly, she seems not to mind.) Her observations on the play of light and color over the desert are made with an artist's eye, and her musings on travel and isolation reveal a pensive side. Yet far as she journeys, literally and metaphorically, she is still dogged by her prejudices: Jewish women cast ""provocative leers,"" and Jewish men possess ""insinuating and commercial abilities""; blacks can be ""repulsive"" and, when dancing, both ""childlike"" and ""barbarous."" Though lacking a needed glossary for the many Arabic terms used, this slim volume makes a welcome addition to the information available on an extraordinary woman.

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 1994
ISBN: 0720611911
Page count: 120pp
Publisher: Peter Owen -- dist. by Dufour