A fifteen-year-old orphan, Calvar, is the hero of this fantastic adventure, which begins in France around 1660, meanders from Cape Verde to Timbuctoo, and back again to Nantes. Twice young Calvar (short for Calvary) is gambled away, once to a fatherly merchant trader and once to a fatherly Moorish emir. Besides being traded around like a bolt of Guinea cloth, Calvar is kidnapped several times, little knows when he goes to sleep at night that he will wake strapped to a camel's back or pegged to the floor of an African tent. Fortunately, though he is an uneducated French river brat, he has no trouble speaking any of the hundred native African tongues and can read and write fluently. He has also developed into a wise and courageous leader, loyal to the point of insanity, so that everyone who inherits him begins to love him like a favorite son. Finally, having passed through every desert ordeal known to man, he is reunited with his first kindly captor, who dies gazing at Calvar mistily through his one good ye, passing on his name and worldly goods to the plucky youngster. Occasional flashes of poetic description do not compensate for poorly conceived characters and a nearly incomprehensible plot.