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South From Barbary: Along the Slave Routes of the Libyan Sahara by Justin Marozzi
published by John Murray, price 17.99 hardback, 355 pages.

This is a very British book about the Sahara. By that I mean that it is funny, well-researched, brave and that the true heroes turn out to be animals. Justin's description of the various Libyan guides he employs is both amusing and affectionate. I have by chance met some of them in the Sahara, and they chuckle happily at the memory. He is also careful to credit the exceptional hospitality of his desert dwelling hosts. Yet it was the five camels of the expedition caravan who emerge as the dominant characters with a good walk on part created for herself by Tuna, an oasis dog that adopts the party. I simply could not have enough of the antics of Bobbles (named after the three protuberances on his nose), the dark brown gelded Gobber (set with a homing instinct for his hometown of Ghadames), the purring, tall, slender Asfar or the dominant Big White. Gobber's sex scenes, such as when he lustfully approaches "a tatty she-camel...rubbing herself against the post" with "a hobble between his forelegs and missing two balls between his rear legs" swing from hiralous mirth to fearful alarm when Gobber is nearly buggered by a testerone maddened bull. Justin's concern for the fate of his camels, which continues beyond the end of their ride to the far-flung oasis of Kufra, is both endearing and one that is passionately shared by the reader.

It is also a very British book in that it travels very consciously in the footsteps of our distinguished past. Justin describes his meetings with Brigadier Harding-Newman and lunch with Wilfrid Thesinger at a golf club almost as if it was a necessary prelude to the Sahara - like incence offered up to the household gods of British travel. His pages are also adorned with lots of well-chosen descriptions penned by the great lions of Saharan travel such as Sir Ahmed Hassanein Bey, T.E.Lawrence and the militant Victorian anti-slaver James Richardson. If only one felt equally confident about Justin's own aesthetic response to Libya. The Germa museum in the Fezzan (where you can learn more about Rock Art and the pre-Islamic Sahara than anywhere else in the world) keeps his interest for quarter of an hour and he also dislikes Tripoli's castle museum - one of the Mediterranean's world greatest collections of classical art. I was also troubled by the west to east route he took, which is pretty much the old pilgrimmage way to Mecca rather than the south-north route that would have been taken by the slave caravans of the Libyan Sahara.

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