(Imported from Blogger)

The Australian Women Writers Challenge has attracted a lot of reviews of fiction. Today’s guest blogger, author and photojournalist Christine Osborne, bucks the trend by reviewing a real-life epic journey. (Links to other AWW nonfiction reviews appear below.)

Christine Osborne writes:

It is with regret that I have just read the last word of Sahara, the account by Paula Constant of her epic walk across the Western Sahara, to Mali and ‘not quite’ Niger — where authorities forbade her to continue across this volatile belt of Africa with on-going Tuareg dissent and latterly, an active al Qaeda cell. Indeed God knows what might have happened had she proceeded through Chad, a plan that was politically naïve and indicative of a gap in knowledge of events, sometimes tragic, that have befallen travellers in this desperate part of Africa.

Sahara is long — almost 400 pages, but I found it gripping from beginning to end, and while I hold the above view, I found it a rivetting read.

Though haunted by a failing marriage (the least interesting part of the book) and plagued by difficult guides, perpetual interest in herself — as a lone white woman walking with camels — burrs catching in her clothes and a urinary tract infection about which she is brutally frank—Paula still managed to keep a diary after walking 25kms a day, from well to desert well.

Her writing is achingly descriptive of a landscape that often has little to describe. And it is never repetitive. We encounter the nomad tea-making ritual on a dozen occasions, but something colourful is always included to make it different to the last one.

Her character comes across as tough, honest and determined and her writing flows easily from page to page, like the great sand dunes she crosses with her camels.

I particularly loved the part where on hearing the evocative music of
the Saharoui, she and her two guides jump up, stamping out rhythmic
dance on the desert sand. “Madani and I dance with our arms up and out
to the sides…he stamps his feet and cocks his hand over his head…I
hold my arms out and turn my hands, my hips roll and twist beneath my
melekhva [the sari-like dress worn by Saharoui women]”.

Paula Constant is one cool head and one helluva writer and I feel her
publisher —Bantam— might have done her better in the choice of paper and a
cover that does not buckle up. And while the writing can stand alone in
this powerful account of ‘love, loss and survival’ it begs for pictures
of the splendid and maddening people she met en route. Especially her
nomad guides — M’Barak, Madani, Mohammed, Ali and Ibrahim.

Photo in S Luangwa (Zambia) Courtesy of C Osborne.

Sahara by Paula Constant

Bantam 2009— ISBN: 978-1-74166-929-9

Christine Osborne is author of books on Morocco, the Middle East and Pakistan. Recently returned to Australia after living 40 years overseas, she is writing about her own adventures as a photojournalist in the Muslim world. Her website is Travels With My Hat and she also writes a blog.

Nonfiction books by Australian women reviewed for the AWW challenge include:

  • The Paper War by Anna Johnston reviewed by Yvonne Perkins
  • My Place by Sally Morgan, reviewed by M D Brady
  • Savage or Civilised? Manners in Colonial Australia by Penny Russell, reviewed by Paula Grunseit
  • Waiting Room: a memoir by Gabrielle Carey, reviewed by Paula Grunsheit
  • The Double Life of Herman Rockefeller by Hillary Bonney, reivewed by Miss M (true crime)
  • The Confession of an Unrepentant Lesbian Ex-Mormon by Sue-Ann Post, reviewed by Heidi.
  • Bad Faith: A Story of Family and Fatherland, by Carmen Callil, reviewed by Heidi
  • A Woman’s War: The Exceptional Life Of Wilma Oram Young, Am by Barbara Angell, reviewed by Heidi
  • Spaces in Her Day: Australian Women’s Diaries by Katie Holmes, reviewed by M D Brady.
  • Women of Letters: Reviving the Lost Art of Correspondence, reviewed by Jet.

Have you written a review of nonfiction for the AWW challenge? Please leave a comment with the link to your review so it can be added here.