DESERT PLACES by Robyn Davidson


Email this review


 An Australian woman spends several harrowing months with desert nomads in the Indian desert, witnessing one of that land's last great pastoral migrations. Davidson (Tracks, 1981) writes in a tradition of self-consciously female Western travel writers like Mary Kingsley. A travel writer in an exotic locale is out of place; a woman is doubly out of place. Davidson plays on that incongruity with a strong sense of the ridiculous, particularly with respect to herself. She consistently concedes the point the Rabari, sheep- and camel-herding nomads, make when they ask why any sane person would wish to join in their stubborn wanderings in the deserts of northwest India. In Davidson's account, their lives are almost unbelievably difficult. But she also makes it clear that she is not an easy person to travel with, particularly since she has not taken the trouble to learn the language of her hosts. Davidson's ability to question her own motives and her right to impose on these nomads allows her to transcend the mundane professional limits of her job, with its book and magazine contracts and the demand for exotic photographs. Addressing a Western audience prepared to listen patiently to any colorful tale of a dying way of life, she often falls back into the Westerner's orientalist vision of the timeless East struggling under the burden of centuries of tradition. But the sheer hardship she encounters often overrides such musings, producing a fresh, frank appraisal of the ingenuity and tough determination of the Rabari, free of condescension, and giving her the opportunity to offer an unadorned account of her own mixed emotions as they sway from disgust with life in India to deep admiration for Indians. Davidson's conventional attempts to generalize about an abstraction called India are much less interesting than her well-told encounters with fascinating, lovable, resourceful people. (16 pages color photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-670-84077-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1996


NonfictionGROUNDED by Seth Stevenson
by Seth Stevenson