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Review: Deep Sahara

This is my first review here in a few years. I hope to do much more of this, so see the end of this post for details about my new review policy.

Review summary: This is an impressive book, but not an easy read. If a reader is willing to make the effort to flow with this unusual story, I believe they will find themselves haunted by it, in the way only a fine novel can manage. I give it a 9/10. Details are below.

About this book: Klaus Werner travels to the Algerian Sahara to research a book on desert insects. He is billeted in a local monastery, but upon arrival he finds it empty of its inhabitants. He soon discovers that it is a recent crime scene.

About the author: Leslie Croxford is a British author and Senior Vice-President of the British University in Egypt. Born in Alexandria, he obtained a doctorate in History from Cambridge University. He has written one novel, Soloman’s Folly (Chatto & Windus), and is completing his third. He and his wife live in Cairo.

Giveaway: Leslie will be awarding a $10 Amazon or B/N gift card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Learn more, and register to win,

My full review: Leslie Croxford has written a book imbued with the feel of the desert and buoyed by his deep knowledge of the region. As I followed along on one man’s odyssey to find himself after the death of his wife, his personal mirages of the mind and heart competed in my head with those of the world’s most vast arid region.

What I liked best:

  1. I’m not generally big on description, but the contrast between the sparse, often brusque dialog and the vivid verbal painting of the Sahara made me feel like I was there, experiencing days of solitude punctuated by stark conversations with others who seldom spoke.
  2. The main character’s earnest search to understand his past and discover who he is are woven well into the action. The hero is perceptive and honest with himself, making him fine company for all 280 pages.
  3. Occasional clever observations about humanity add a much needed touch of subtle humor. A few of my favorites are at the end of this post.
  4. Bonus points have been given for the delicate yet effective handling of both the sex and violence.

What I liked least:

  1. One significant event in the narrative is never explained well enough for me, and the little explanation it does receive contradicts other parts of the plot. It’s a minor but irritating flaw.
  2. I’m definitely not a fan of the very end. I will not give anything away, but only say that there were several possible variations on it that would have fit the spirit of the story as well or better, in my opinion, and been more satisfying to and even respectful of the reader.

In spite of these two issues, the book is well worth reading for all those who yearn to experience other lives and stranger worlds inside the covers of the novels they choose.

Purchase this book: Available in paperback through Amazon, or at the Book Depository.

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions.

Read more reviews at:

January 25: Locks, Hooks and Books

February 1: Bookaholic

February 1: Journey of a Bookseller

February 8: Sharing Links and Wisdom

A few of my favorite quotes

  1. “… recounting the tale to myself, to that other beholding part of me standing in for the God in whom I no longer believe, but to whom I apparently continue to have things to say.”
  2. “Be that as it may, I kept no diary. What I had to say about myself today was the same as I would have said yesterday or what I shall say tomorrow …”
  3. “Wherever one is, Monsieur,” the officer said, looking directly at me, “one is actually in one’s own situation. That’s the case regardless of how alien one’s surroundings are.” He replaced his cap over his clear features and prepared to leave. “So one would do well to understand what that situation is. It might save one a lot of trouble in one’s new setting.”

A personal note: I come to this review with a bit of bias, as we all do. In my case, I, too have written a book (x0) about Africa (Nigeria) drawing on my professional background (as a geophysicist) so I wanted to like this novel. I was once employed by one of the major oil companies exploring for oil in Algeria (where Deep Sahara takes place). Although I never worked there, I heard plenty of stories and have an appreciation for the female geologist in this novel. (There aren’t that many of us.) I also received a free pdf copy of this book from Goddess Fish, the value of which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.

If you are interested in a review from me: I read speculative fiction of all sorts, have a fondness for metaphysical tales and particularly like stories with a strong female protagonist. I will consider novels of almost all types that relate to the general theme of world peace. I am not interested in reviewing non-fiction, romance novels, stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type. Please do not ask me to review books about vampires or zombies. If you would like to be considered for a review please send all the usual information to Lola (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2018 in Africa, oil industry, other authors

 

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Happy Peace Day, Safari Guides Leonard and Marcos

I just missed seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World a couple of weeks ago, and at the time I didn’t even want to be there. I guess that is how wonders sometimes go.

I and my traveling companions had a rough long drive on bad dirt roads to get to Masai Mara, a large Kenyan game reserve contiguous with the Serengeti. We were off on the adventure of a life time. But, our van broke down on the way, so we also had a couple of hours standing by the side of the road while similar vans and jeeps bounced by us and the zebra watched from a distance as we stood in the dust. Adventures don’t always go as planned. Finally, our unflappable guide Leonard flagged down another van.

An equally amenable guide named Marcos, and his two tourists, took us into their fold and got us to our camp. The next day, Leonard, who would not be deterred from seeing that we got what we came for, drove us deep into the game reserve in our newly repaired vehical. We saw lions and elephants, rhinos, water buffalo and even the elusive leopard before our van broke down again.

Now, Leonard is a man who spends most of his days driving people as close to lions in the wild as he can. He puts up with their complaints and inane requests while he figures out where to best park his van so it won’t get trampled by the elephants. He troubleshoots his vehicle as easily as he scans the bushes for cheetah before he directs his squirming passengers to quick run behind the vehicle and pee as fast as they are able.

I should note that he maintained a straight face every time our party of four women dissolved into giggles as we did this. He pretty well defines calm.

But, we could tell that even he was a tad concerned by this second, more remote breakdown. Soon, he was on the radio calling for a tow truck, and somebody to help with us.

After awhile, a van came by and, of course, it was Marcos. He, and his two less-than-thrilled clients, had not been far away when they heard the distress call. “Don’t worry about it,” he assured us. “We help each other out here. Next time, Leonard rescues my people, right?” His people responded to that with nervous little smiles.

“We just want to go back to camp,” we told him. “We’ve seen everything today.” Continual car trouble is exhausting business. But Marcos had a dilemma. His people, a young couple from Mexico, both grad students in the U.S., had come to Kenya wanting to see one thing more than anything else. And it happened this time of day, on the far edges of the reserve along the Mara River near where we were. We had to go along.

“It’s one of seven wonders of the world,” Marcos whispered to us. “They want to see it very badly.”

What could we say. A wonder of the world? We were lucky to have a ride back to camp at all, so off we went to watch the wildebeests cross the Mara River.

Now, Marcos hadn’t been exactly accurate. In November 2006 the USA Today and the television show Good Morning America created a list of New Seven Wonders chosen by six judges and the Great Migration of the Serengeti and Masai Mara was picked as one of them. This migration included this thing our new travel companions wanted to see, which was the wildebeests swimming across the river.

Turns out wildebeests are timid creatures. Deep in their instinctual hearts they know they must cross the river to get to greener grazing. They also know that while they are safest as a large group, no matter how large the group is, crocodiles will eat some of them as they cross and rhinos will attack others. Not all will not survive the crossing.

Zebras have far more crotchety personalities, and wildebeests need a few zebras to lead them. Even then, they gather together, approach the waters edge, then back off in fear. Wildebeest friends who’ve already made the crossing call to them to come, and after awhile they gather their courage again and approach the waters edge.

This process goes on for hours, as we found out sitting in our rescue van waiting. Windows had to be kept closed due to dust, engines shut off, voices hushed. There must have been twenty or thirty vans and jeeps like ours, quietly waiting and watching while the wildebeests collectively weighed starvation of the many against death by crocodile for a few. I could appreciate that it was a tough choice.

Marcos did his best to sooth us, his unwilling passengers, as fatigue set in and claustrophobia grew while his two paying customers took endless photos of the timid wildebeests. Finally he declared “This is it. They are about to do it.” Even I felt the excitement.

But he wasn’t the only guide paying attention. One of the fancier jeeps revved up its engine and took of in a noisy cloud of dust for a better view. The shocked wildebeests jumped at the sound,  starred at our vehicles like they had just noticed them, and then ran away from the river as one. There would be no crossing that day.

Marcos’s calm frayed at bit. “Stupid,” he muttered. “Now they don’t get to cross, and we don’t get to see anything.”

Like I said, I almost saw one of the seven wonders of the world, and it probably would have been amazing. As we drove back to camp we passed Leonard being towed out of the game reserve and he gave us a friendly wave.

Thursday, September 21, is the 2017 International Day of Peace. I always write about it on this blog, and I try to wish happiness to someone I’ve met in the past year from far away. This year, times being what they are, I’m giving those greetings early and often. So …

“Happy Peace Day, world class safari guides Leonard and Marcos. I wish your calm patience, and spirit of cooperation were as common in my world as they appear to be on the plains of Kenya.”

Actually, I more than wish it. I think we need to get these guys involved in solving some world problems. Seems to me that we could apply what they bring to the table to at least five or six different international crises that come to mind.

So let me rephrase my wish.

“Happy Peace Day, Leonard and Marcos. May your year be filled with few engine problems and grateful customers. By the way, any chance you could find the time lend a hand to rest of us here, as we bumble around trying to figure out how to get along? We really could use the help.”

 

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2017 in Africa, peace, travel

 

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“We are the World”

Every character I create is part me, part fiction, but none is more like me than Lola, the hero of my first book. We do have our differences, but we share a strong desire to make the world a better place. She will find her path in the sixth book of the collection, which I am writing now. My path, for the time being, seems to be to write these books about her.

The music in x0 is tied into this idealism. “We are the World” by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie was released in 1985, the year that my characters Lola and Alex were married. In x0, Lola becomes obsessed with Africa once she starts work at a Nigerian based oil company. Michael Jackson’s death in June 2009 brings to Lola’s mind his role in both the song and the fundraising he was responsible for. A short excerpt is below.

On June 25, Michael Jackson died. Although none of the Zeitmans were devoted fans, all five mourned the loss of a talented, troubled man who had written songs that they had enjoyed. Lola noted with interest that so many people accessed the internet in search of more details about his death, or even just in search of shared comfort, that several major websites became unusable for a while. What a force we can be together, she thought.

While she found herself humming snippets of his music for days afterward, she mostly sang to herself the one song of his that she had liked best of all. Forty-three other musical stars had joined in to sing his 1985 collaboration with Lionel Richie called “We are the World”, with over sixty million dollars in proceeds donated to fight starvation in Africa.

She could still see in her mind the video of Michael in the black jacket with the gold sequins, his sparking white glove undulating to the music while he sang the first rendition of the chorus. Lola thought that when Cyndi Lauper quipped that the lyrics sounded like a Pepsi commercial, she had a point. There was no deep meaning here. Just a hell of a great idea. “We are the world.”

Due to the number of artists involved and various claims of copyright infringement, videos of this song being performed are few and far between, and are often removed from the internet. Enjoy the version below, which has been viewed over forty-seven million times.

Twenty-five years later, a new group of artists performed this song to raise money for Haiti after the island was devastated by an earthquake. For the full experience, and a chance to give your tear ducts a little exercise, spend a few more minutes enjoying this official 2010 Artists for Haiti rendition.

With the second song of each book, I pick up the intensity a little. Click on to read about y1’s “Party Like it’s 1999“, z2’s “Only the Strong Survive“, c3’s “Heads Carolina” and d4’s “I Follow Rivers“.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2015 in music for peace, Nigeria

 

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Electrify Africa

Writing a novel in which at least half the action takes place in a sub-Sahara African nation made me more aware than I had been about the day to day struggles in a developing country. Mind you, “more aware” merely means less ignorant. I’ve never lived anywhere without electricity, clean water, and ample food and my research produced information and sympathy, not understanding. But as my hero of x0 concludes, knowledge and concern are a start.

beautiful life3I work with several Nigerians, in real life, and enjoy the occasional opportunity to see the world through their eyes. They give me a feel for how complicated their homeland is, and how well-meant simple solutions often fail. Obviously, problems everywhere else can be complex too. I work in the oil industry, and have a grown child who makes his living trying to understand climate change. We both want what is best for this planet, and we each spend our days surrounded by those with very different opinions about how that should be achieved.

All of this came together for me recently when I received an impassioned email plea, from Bono of U2 no less, to support the Electrify Africa Act. It was described as “a life-saving bill that would help Africa bring electricity to 50 million people for the very first time”. This sounds wonderful. Nigerian co-workers tell me that much of the electric power in their country comes from diesel generators, a smoky, noisy, inefficient part-time solution that they suspect puts money in somebody’s pocket. I am all for a better answer and even willing to see some of my tax dollars used to get there.

I received a follow-up email a few days ago saying the bill had passed. Wahoo! Furthermore, I was informed that my representative,Texas Republican Congressman Kevin Brady, had voted for it. Wait a minute. Maybe I am being too cynical here, but over the past several years I have noticed that Congressman Brady and I don’t agree on a while lot of things. If he voted yes, perhaps I’m not as informed about this bill as I thought.

Indeed, a little more research showed that the bill is controversial and the issues are complicated “Access to power is a principal bottleneck to growth in Africa. Six hundred million Africans lack access to a power grid” reads one headline. Yes, we need to do something about that.  “Two U.S. initiatives to provide Africans with electricity seem likely to lead to large, climate-polluting projects rather than the locally sourced renewable energy rural Africa needs” says another. Okay, I may be starting to see where my pro-oil-industry congressman fits in.

sungazing7The Nation takes it a step further and adds that “Proponents of Electrify and Power Africa have been most publicly enthusiastic about new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas on the continent, which has many African activists wary of a resource grab.” USAID, a U.S. Government agency working to end extreme global poverty puts it somewhat differently. “Power Africa encourages countries to make energy sector reforms while connecting entrepreneurs and U.S. businesses to investment opportunities.”

What to do? Go with an initiative that will be backed by many more, and yet may well invite more problems into a continent that desperately needs less of them? Or hold out for a better, more environmentally friendly and Africa-centric solution? Remember “electricity allows businesses to flourish, clinics to store vaccines, and students to study long after dark. But for more than two-thirds of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa, these opportunities simply do not exist.” Politics is a messy business. For now, I’m going to reluctantly cheer on the passage of this bill on the grounds that trying to solve a problem is better than doing nothing. Let’s hope that is true in this case.

(Thanks to the Facebook pages of Your Beautiful Life and Sungazing for sharing the images shown above.)

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2014 in Nigeria

 

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