Book Review #1: Sahara Unveiled by William Langewiesche

There are places in the world that we want to see and often fantasize about. However, when we actually go there, sometimes our dreams can turn upside down. I guess deserts are one of those places. The desert is a place we long for from afar, but it becomes frightening when it looms closer. But this by no means implies the Sahara is a place you should avoid. 

On the contrary, the desert is a great place to visit, but with caution and consideration—and only if you are open to different types of beauty. Or at least that’s what I felt while reading William Langewiesche’s Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert

What is the book about?

William Langewiesche, an American author, journalist, and pilot, set out on a journey to the Sahara Desert in the 1990s and penned tales of his adventures in the surrounding countries amidst the desert landscape. His story starts in Algiers, a city in the north of Algeria, and ends in the capital of Senegal, Dakar. William’s adventures recount how his trip to the Sahara Desert and his extraordinary experiences there encouraged him (or even forced him) to see that side of the world in a new light. 

Why do I like it?

I’ve always loved the Sahara Desert and dreamed of traveling there one day. My love for that region is so immense that I read anything that remotely reminds me of it. Langewiesche describes the beauty and rarity of the desert from the perspective of the locals he meets on his journey, and he has a unique voice too. He doesn’t interfere with what happens in the Sahara but is not oblivious to the facts either. 

Photo by Tatiana Zanon on Unsplash

The human factor, which is missing in many travel writings today, abounds in this book. The author visits and people-watches in the countries surrounding the Sahara. That’s one of the things that makes Sahara Unveiled worth reading. He also shares the stories of Westerners who have been to the Sahara before, making the book even more intriguing for history buffs.

What question does it raise for me?

Are we where we have been? 

In other words: does traveling shape who we are? Can we ever know who we might become if we don’t experience life firsthand? William Langewiesche originally raised this question for me with his statement, “So much of who we are is where we have been.” And as an immigrant who lives 8,500 kilometers away from her home country, it is a valuable question I’d like to ponder on more. 

The book was written in the 1990s, so the political events mentioned in it may no longer be as relevant, but this is what the Sahara Desert is about: It changes—slowly, but stubbornly, like the shifting sand dunes. 

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