I borrowed this book from Wimbledon Library in October 2007. Since then I never had time to read it. Before I moved back to Manchester in December 2007, I had to return it. Last April 2008, during one of those weekly visits to the local library, I stumbled upon the same book again. This time it was discarded by the library, for the price of 10p. Many weeks after that I read book after book borrowed from the library and left the ones that I owned unread. A sure sign of a gluttonous reader. Many a times I checked out Amazon website to look at the resale value of the book, trying to adhere to a personal policy of not keeping too many books with me in a small living space. It is not attractive. Many readers are selling their own for 0.01p, for nothing.
So after a conscious effort to dwindle down my book borrowings, I finally picked up this book from my shelf and read it. I was mesmerised. Albeit British wry sense of humour, Palin had displayed sufficient dose of humility and wit to travel like the locals and express compassions and concerns for the locals. Palin’s prose is simple, precise and beautiful. Palin and his crew travel from the quaint Englishness of Gibraltar through Morocco, Algeria, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Libya and Tunisia. At least for the first leg of his journey (Morocco) I have seen enough myself to know that whenever he travelled to one city, he merely skimmed the surface of appreciation of the city or country. Perhaps a bit part of the narration has been televised by his 2003 BBC series.
His book stirred in me the desire to visit some of the historical sites in Mali, Libya, Tunisia. Great mosque at Djenne, Mali, Roman amphitheatre at El Jem, Tunisia; Appolonia, Libya; and the desert. Mystical, ruthless, both beautiful and deadly, the exotic mystery of Sahara desert populated by nomads, camels, displaced peoples and ex-colonials is unveiled in the book. Perhaps why recently I read so much about Africa is the fact that it is impossible to visit some of these places. Political unrest and lack of social security, travelling there would be suicidal.
Through his writings, I began to appreciate the beauty of the desert, the history of these African countries. The feeling of nothingness, heighten the senses to “somethingness” – if ever there is such a word. The sunrise, the sunset, the caravanserai, the humble abodes of Bedouins are all wonderfully portrayed in the beautiful photographs by Basil Pao. For more of Basil’s photography of Palin’s travel around the world, see:
Amazon.co.uk book review:
At the end of the book, the feast was so sumptuous, the fantasy so vivid, the desert so alluring… that I decided to keep the book. If this book is worth nothing to sell it, it is worth a lot to keep it.