- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Arrow; New Ed edition (2 Jun. 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0099435926
- ISBN-13: 978-0099435921
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 108,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Skeletons On The Zahara Paperback – 2 Jun 2005
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Some stories are so enthralling they deserve to be retold generation after generation. The wreck in 1815 of the Connecticut merchant ship, Commerce, and the subsequent ordeal of its crew in the Sahara Desert, is one such story. With Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival, Dean King refreshes the popular 19th-century narrative once read and admired by Henry David Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper and Abraham Lincoln. King's version, which actually draws from two separate first-person accounts of the Commerce's crew, offers a page-turning blend of science, history and classic adventure.
The book begins with a seeming false start: tracing the lives of two merchants from North Africa, Seid and Sidi Hamet, who lose their fortunes-and almost their lives-when their massive camel caravan arrives at a desiccated oasis. King then jumps to the voyage of the Commerce under Captain Riley and his 11-man crew. After stops in New Orleans and Gibraltar, the ship falls off course en route to the Canary Islands and ultimately wrecks at the infamous Cape Bojador. After the men survive the first predations of the nomads on the shore, they meander along the coast looking for a way inland as their supplies dwindle. They subsist for days by drinking their own urine. Eventually, to their horror, they discover that they have come aground on the edge of the Sahara Desert. They submit themselves, with hopes of getting food and water, as slaves to the Oulad Bou Sbaa. After days of abuse, they are bought by Hamet, who, after his own experiences with his failed caravan (described at the novels opening), sympathises with the plight of the crew. Together, they set off on a hellish journey across the desert to collect a bounty for Hamet in Swearah.
King embellishes this compelling narrative throughout with scientific and historical material explaining the origins of the camel, the market for English and American slaves, and the stages of dehydration. He also humanises the Sahrawi with background on the tribes and on the lives of Hamet and Seid. This material, doled out in sufficient amounts to enrich the story without derailing it, makes Skeletons on the Zahara a perfectly entertaining bit of history that feels like a guilty pleasure. --Patrick O'Kelley, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Known for his biography of the elusive Patrick O'Brian...Dean King has emerged from the great man's shadow with a compelling work in his own right... Once ashore, King's narrative, like Riley's leadership, grows in stature and certaintly... As King notes, the understanding, respect and compassion between these representatives of the Christian and Muslim worlds offers a timely example in our own troubled age." (Sunday Times)
"Genuinely gripping, full of twists and turns of fate ... mesmerising ... The torturous journey, with parched tongues and aching bones, in constant fear of bandits who might capture and enslave them, is described in unsparing detail ... The game of bluff and double bluff kept the crewmen's lives on a knife-edge. If you want to know the ending, the Hollywood movie can't be too far behind." (Daily Mail)
"Dean King has brought to life one of the great, true-life adventure stories - a riveting tale of suffering and redemption" (Nathaniel Philbrick)
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Top Customer Reviews
The treatment of the shipwrecked sailors is nothing short of shocking by today's standards. They were treated as a commodity to be traded, and yet this is eerily similar to the treatment doled out to black africans by white slavers. In an uncomfortable table-turning, we come to appreciate some of the injustices doled out by humanity.
The fact that some of the sailors survived is nothing short of miraculous, and fortitude of the ship's captain, Riley is the key to this. There is no doubt that those who escaped were extremely fortunate and this is what keeps this book gripping. The other fascinating element of the book is the attitude of the sailors to their captors. Some captors were better than others, and the blinkered viewpoint of sailors to start with was considerably broadened by their experiences, particularly the strength and commitment to some of the locals to freeing them.
Read this book and enjoy - and be grateful you're not enslaved in the Sahara.
This classic of when the U.S. Commerce was shipwrecked near Cape Bojador should be required reading list. The story is riveting enough to capture and hold anyone's attention. The crew was captured by Sahrawi Arabs then sold into slavery. After which they experience travel across eight hundred miles of the Sahara Desert. Pressed into labor and fed meager portions of food we follow their story as they face dehydration, starvation, barbarism, murder, insects, sandstorms, ethnic hostility and death around every corner.
A true tale of endurance and adventure that will make you want to continue reading. This is a must read today as Riley's book "Narrative of the Loss of the American Big Commerce" in 1816. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln wrote that he had read Riley's book and that it influenced his attitudes concerning slavery.
The other book that has simply stunned me is IN THE GHOST COUNTRY. It's about Peter Hillary's heart-breaking journey to the South Pole, the loneliest and most disturbing oddysey of his life on the edge. Hillary has survived where many, many of his friends have died in the mountains -- and many of them who were at his side at the time. On the body-wrecking and mind-warping haul to the bottom of the world, the ghosts of friends and family rise up to walk with him. Shocking, sad, captivating and a very trippy experience. Too many amazing stories to go into here.
Sadly it was spoilt for me as I saw the documentary on the Discovery Channel some time previously.
But as survival stories go this really does take some beating.
Having read "white gold" this really did bring the horrors of ship wrecked mariners tales home.
Treated less than dogs, to be bought and sold like cattle and classed as less than sub human
You won't put it down
The Commerce set sail from Gibralter for the Cape Verde Islands in August 1815 but because of ill winds and fog it drifted off course and was wrecked on the west African coast. All 11 crew and the 1 passenger got ashore but the passenger waskilled by nomads. The crew sailed a damaged whaler further down the coast but on going ashore were captured and enslaved then suffered several months of cruelty, starvation and neglect.
Eventuallt 5 including the captain were ransomed to the British Consul and 2 others survived later.4crew disappeared and were never heard of again.
This is a gripping story of bravery and endurance.When the book was published in 1817 the captain became an American hero.
A book to be recommended.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Well told ,fluid story of the wreck of the Commerce giving a glimpse of the empathy between the western world peoples and the chaotic barbarism of islam.Published 3 months ago by john
Disappointed. Not with the overall account but somehow with how all the background detail was dealt with. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Gordon Tailby
Another version of sufferings in Africa by James Riley an excellent readPublished 10 months ago by YorkieBallo
Very well told true-life story. Gripping and empathetic - read it in two sittings.Published 17 months ago by R. A. Mckeown
I was not crazy about this book. I was looking for more of a story and less of a history and geography lesson and this contained a bit too much of both. Read morePublished 21 months ago by VJF
Whilst this is basically my type of reading I found it very bitty,very confusing as it jumped about different characters and mesmerized the reader with a galaxy of unpronounceable... Read morePublished on 30 May 2013 by Musicman
This novel was totally thrilling from the beginning to the end. It never stopped delivering. A fascinating story of the trading days from the US to AfricaPublished on 16 Feb. 2013 by Craig Phillips