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Non Fiction

Sahara by Michael Palin

sahara1I 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.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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