A Tale of Survival and Courage

Skeletons-on-the-ZaharaI’ve been having a lot of fun working on my new book – Book Lust to Go (due out sometime in 2010).  It’ll be filled with armchair travel and adventure books, novels set in foreign countries, all the history they’ll let me shoehorn in — that sort of book. I’m sure you get the picture.  The reading has been heavenly.  One thing I’ve been struck by is how many of the armchair adventure sort feature people who have chosen to go on these risky journeys — Jon Krakauer’s marvelous Into Thin Air comes immediately to mind, of course, as do Bill Bryson, who chose to walk the Appalachian Trail, and Tony Horwitz who set off for Baghdad without a map. But the men described in Dean King’s Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival (Little, Brown, 2005 ended up where they did purely by chance.  In August of 1815, twelve crewmembers (including three officers) from the Connecticut merchant brig Commerce were shipwrecked off the western coast of Africa, enslaved by a Bedouin tribe, and forced to accompany their captors — by foot and by camelback — on a seemingly endless, desperately grueling, and bone-dry trek through the sands of the western Sahara desert (now part of Morocco).  Which of the crew, if any, will survive the unspeakable horrors, misery, and deprivation they face?  And if they do survive, how will they ever make it back across the Atlantic to home and family?  King based his book on two first-person accounts of the hellish experience the men underwent:  The first was called, quite simply, Sufferings in Africa.  It was written by James Riley, the captain of the Commerce, and was originally published in 1817.  The second, written by Archibald Robbins, an “able seaman” aboard the Commerce, appeared in 1818.  From these two works, King has constructed a gripping, page-turning narrative — a tale of survival and courage in the most dire of circumstances.  The fact that as this story was unfolding alongside a parallel story of survival and courage in the face of dire circumstances — the abduction and enslavement in the “New World” of African native men, women, and children — makes King’s book especially ironic.

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10 responses to “A Tale of Survival and Courage

  1. Anne

    You surely already know about the various compilations of travel writers’ stories; one of my favorites is the annual “The Best American Travel Writing,” which began in 2000 and was edited that inaugural year by Bill Bryson. The stories are timeless and haunting.

    Can’t wait for your book!

    • pearlspicks

      Yes, I included a bunch of those compilations in the book. I think my favorite is the Vintage Departures series. I don’t think I’ve ever read a bad book from it.

  2. Yvette

    Hi Nancy, such good news: a new Book Lust. What could be better?
    I know I don’t have to say anything about Frances Mayes wonderful books, but I hope you’ll also be including the delightful books of Marlene De Blasi, A THOUSAND DAYS IN VENICE and THE LADY IN THE PALAZZO, among others.
    Also Ferenc Mate’s THE HILLS OF TUSCANY. I’m wondering if you’re also going to be including fiction in your new book – stories set in exotic locales or even not so exotic – i.e. AUSTENLAND by Shannon Hale.

  3. Elizabeth

    I am looking forward to Book Lust to Go. I wanted to recommend _Neither East Nor West: One Woman’s Journey Through the Islamic Republic of Iran_ by Christiane Bird. It is a great book about a woman traveling (often alone) in Iran. She is a thoughtful writer who really made me want to visit there someday.

  4. Nancy

    I just finished listening to the Oct. 8 podcast of “NP Book Reviews” held during a Seattle Public Radio pledge drive. I want to highly recommend a “semi-autobiographical novel” from 1939 (today would have been deemed a memoir, no doubt) entitled “Christ in Concrete” by Pietro di Donato. I read this book while living in Italy and distinctly remember looking up from this book with tears in my eyes at the faces of the Italian riding the Milanese trams with me and recognizing so many of the faces from the very book I was reading. It’s a moving story that has come back to me time and again.
    I want to NOT recommend “Down the Nile” by Rosemary Mahoney which I read while living in Cairo. Mahoney traveled the Nile in a boat – an endeavor undertaken it seems specifically so she could write a book about the experience. While I understand everyone’s experience traveling is different from another’s, I found Mahoney’s descriptions frequently denigrating to Egyptians and their culture. It wasn’t at all similar to my years-long experience in Egypt or that of my circle of friends. I wish Mahoney had remained skulling on Rhode Island’s Aquidneck River!

    • pearlspicks

      I’ve never read Christ in Concrete but have put it on hold at the library. But it’s odd – I did enjoy Rosemary Mahoney’s book. I didn’t find her descriptions denigrating – or any more denigrating – than other books in the same genre. That it was all a gimmick to write a book I don’t doubt so much. I do find that – we see it so often these days – so annoying.

  5. Stephen Niver

    I first got hooked on this author with the little orange Penguin books that are perfect for travel. There were 60p and measure about 4 x 55. inches. This particular book was by Dirk Bogarde and was an excerpt from his autobiography. His books are very interesting and informative about the movie industry and living in Europe and especially in southern France.

  6. Hooray! Book Lust To Go! Probably too early to add to my Amazon wishlist….

  7. Becky

    I am so excited to see that you have another book coming out. I loved your Book Lust books and constantly recommend them! Great news!

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