Travel books usually benefit from the author having more than a passing knowledge of a place. Unfortunately, however, although Marozzi's debut is strong on Saharan cultures and early European explorers, he has an awkward prose style that tends to be over-laden with adverbs, adjectives and discordant similes. He also has a rosy-eyed view of the history of British involvement with the slave trade, waxing lyrical over 19th century attempts to suppress the trade while largely ignoring the fact that Britain was the leading beneficiary of the Atlantic trade throughout the 18th century.
That is not to say that the book is without merit. In the second half the story picks up, and the prose becomes less stodgy. The desert journey appears to improve Marozzi's qualities of empathy, and he is never less than honest about the behaviour of Ned and himself. In the end, though, South From Barbary seems to be an opportunity missed. Although Marozzi's work is erudite on Libya's history, room remains for a book that deals more richly with the nature of modern Libya. --Toby Green
From the Back Cover
'"In one of Tripoli's only English-language bookshops I picked up the book that thrust the desert before me in all its guises. Here was silence and loneliness, the glory of wide African skies, unbroken plains of sand and rock, loyalty and companionship, adventure treachery and betrayal."'
For six years after reading the account of the British North African expedition of 1818-20, Justin Marozzi had longed to cross the Libyan Sahara. Captivated by the beauty of this little-known country on his first visit to Tripoli, he vowed to return to explore its vast desert along the old slave-trade routes. 'South from Barbary' – as nineteenth century Europeans knew North Africa – is the compelling story of his 1,500 – mile journey.
Setting off from Tripoli, Marozzi and his travelling companion, Ned, headed first to the ancient oasis of Ghadames on an improbable mission to purchase camels and find a guide willing to forego the comforts of a four-wheel drive for the hardship of an extended camel trek. Marozzi and Ned had never travelled in the desert, nor had they ridden camels before embarking on this expedition. Encouraged by a series of idiosyncratic Touareg and Tubbu guides, they learnt the full range of desert survival skills, including how to master their five faithful camels.
The caravan of two explorers, five camels with distinctive personalites and their guides undertook a gruelling journey across some of the most inhospitable territory on earth. Despite threats from Libyan officialdom and the ancient natural hardships of the desert, Marozzi and Ned found themselves growing ever closer to the land and its people.
More than a travelogue, 'South from Barbary' is a fascinating history of Saharan exploration and efforts by early British explorers to suppress the African slave trade. It evokes the poetry and solitude of the desert, the companionship of man and beast, the plight of a benighted nation, and the humour and generosity of its resilient people.