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SAHARA UNVEILED by William Langewiesche

SAHARA UNVEILED

A Journey Across the Desert

By William Langewiesche

Pub Date: Aug. 8th, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-42982-4
Publisher: Pantheon

 A restless, curious, at times dark ramble through Saharan outposts from Atlantic Monthly correspondent Langewiesche (Cutting for Sign, 1993). Via ratty bus and dilapidated truck, four-wheel-drive Toyota and riverboat, Langewiesche followed an arc through the Sahara from the Mediterranean south to the savanna, then west to the Atlantic. ``All you need is a suitcase, a bit of cash, an occasional bus ticket, the intention to move on,'' he modestly claims. But this was hard travel, on a shoestring, surrounded by an uncompromising and hostile environment, a landscape full of danger: from bandits to insurrectionists, from cruel, rapacious border police to a particularly nasty death from thirst. He went looking for desert and he found it: high peaks, ``pink and yellow dunes, blue craggy cliffs, black volcanic rubble,'' a village so hot that the wind burned. Langewiesche conjures the heat so palpably that readers may feel threatened, overwhelmed, ready to swoon. Sere, indeed, but everywhere there are people--fixers and connivers, expats bitching in the Algerian wasteland, judges and wayfarers and smugglers--so he spends some time with them, coming away with a beguiling human geography. It's not all barchan and oasis, for there are cities in the sand: Langewiesche samples conspiratorial Algiers, hopelessly stranded Nouakchott, inglorious Timbuktu, slummy Bamako. And being a savvy journalist, he brings the background into the picture, detailing French colonial history (with a goodly array of eccentric, at times inspired, personalities), the ongoing Islamic revolution and Tuareg rebellion, the political evolution of the Saharan states and their current travails, the flowering of Fulani culture, 10,000 years back, that produced Tadart's wondrous rock art. If ``the desert teaches by taking away,'' as cautions Langewiesche--snatching water, whole towns, one's sanity--then this book is a rare desert gift. (Author tour)