Friday, July 06, 2012

Tahir Shah - Timbuctoo - Review

Shoeless and furled up in a filthy blanket, shielding his face from the arctic wind, a lone figure staggered out into the street from the market stalls of Covent Garden...

So begins the story of Robert Adams a man who had done what hundreds of others had dreamed of but failed to accomplish.  He had been to the fabled city of Timbuctoo and returned alive. What Tahir Shah unfolds is a skilfully constructed dual narrative that delivers Adam's narration to the Royal African Committee and also the skulduggery afoot in London in 1815. The storytelling captures the flavour of travellers tales of the times. Told in short sections, the reader is quickly immersed in a rollicking yarn that delivers an accurate depiction of the times.

Along the way Shah's novel gives us fabulous vignettes of the social and scientific luminaries of the era - Stephenson (he of the steam engine), Lord Byron, Lady Caroline Lamb, Sir Joseph Banks, the Prince Regent (later George IV), Marie Antoine Carême (the "King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings") and many, many more. The research is thorough, the language beautifully crafted to the times.

Tahir Shah will be known to many readers as the author of The Caliph's House,  Travels With Myself and In Arabian Nights. Now, with Timbuctoo, he has produced an novel that is not only a fascinating read, but a book that is a work of art in itself. The limited edition hardback is designed to be treasured. At first glance it appears to have come from another age. It weighs 2 kilos has fabulous marbled endpapers, a silk bookmark, a pouch at the rear with inserts, and six huge fold-out maps. The cover, embossed with raised gold type, gives it the appearance of a travel book from two centuries ago. There may not be gold in Timbuctoo, but there certainly is between the covers of this novel.


TIMBUCTOO -Kindle Edition

Reviewer: Sandy McCutcheon


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