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Sahara Man: Travelling with the Tuareg by Jeremy Keenan
published by John Murray, price 18.99, ISBN 0-7195-6161-2

This is dangerous stuff. Not because of the terrain, snakes or scorpions, let alone the Algerian civil war still rumbling away in the distant north of this vast country. Our commonly held concerns about travelling in Algeria hold no interest for Jeremy Keenan, who knows the area as of old when he worked as a young anthropologist amongst the Tuareg in the 60's. No, the danger in this book is not physical it is moral. For Keenan is a passionate iconoclast and a dangerously well informed one.

One by one he topples the Cultural idols, even putting in its place the current travellers obsession with the Saharan salt trade. He investigates the hushed up catastrophe of In Eker, where a French atomic test blew a hole in one of the Tefedest mountains. The generals were the first to race away from the disaster, the major casualties being inflicted on local Tuareg children.

In the valley of Irharhar he investigates the Tuareg defeat of the Flatters expedition. Even Paul Bowles failed to invent anything quite as nasty as the bizarre truth of this French misadventure with its madness, mass poisoning and cannibalism.

Nor is it just the past that is unearthed as Keenan investigates a modern Robin Hood of the Sahara, the ubiquitous bandit smuggler-in-chief, Mokhtar ben Mokhtar. A man who has been 'killed' seven times, who commands a fleet of hundreds of jeeps but who also might never have existed.

In his search for evidence of theft of rock art Keenan mawls the great reputation of Henri Lhote, unearthing his casual cruelty, his dubious political motivations and the bizarre levels to which his professional jealousy could go.

It is a book that will make many enemies (especially in France) though his reputation amongst the Tuareg can only be further increased. Anyone interested in the Sahara will have to read it.

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