When the American cargo ship Commerce ran aground on the northwestern shores of Africa in 1815 along with its crew of 12 Connecticut-based sailors, the misfortunes that befell them came fast and hard, from enslavement to reality-bending bouts of dehydration. King's aggressively researched account of the crew's once-famous ordeal reads like historical fiction, with unbelievable stories of the seamen's endurance of heat stroke, starvation and cruelty by their Saharan slavers. King (Patrick O'Brian: A Life Revealed), who went to Africa and, on camel and foot, retraced parts of the sailors' journey, succeeds brilliantly at making the now familiar sandscape seem as imposing and new as it must have been to the sailors. Every dromedary step thuds out from the pages with its punishing awkwardness, and each drop of brackish found water reprieves and tortures with its perpetual insufficiency. King's leisurely prose style rounds out the drama with well-parceled-out bits of context, such as the haggling barter culture of the Saharan nomadic Arabs and the geological history of Western Africa's coastline. Zahara (King's use of older and/or phonetic spellings helps evoke the foreignness of the time and place) impresses with its pacing, thoroughness and empathy for the plight of a dozen sailors heaved smack-hard into an unknown tribalism. By the time the surviving crew members make it back to their side of civilization, reader and protagonist alike are challenged by new ways of understanding culture clash, slavery and the place of Islam in the social fabric of desert-dwelling peoples. Maps, illus.
Great read - but a few issues
A great read! However, the author should not meddle in such topics as earth age and theology. Lack of citation regarding these references makes the author appear an authority figure; clearly he is not. Stick to researched story re-telling and leave the earth age debate and theology to the true experts. 4 stars due to this, otherwise it would have been 5.
Many Lessons About Resiliency and Relationships
I picked up this book after accidentally seeing a short review of it on C-SPAN. Incredibly well written and well researched based on the true accounts of those American sailors who suffered and persevered.
This book is amazing. Full of intrigue and drama...the fact that this story is true makes it all the more captivating.