Wilfred Thesiger was born in Addis Ababa in 1910 and educated at Eton and Oxford.
Though British, he was repulsed by the softness and rigidity of Western life, "the machines, the calling cards, the meticulously aligned streets, etc." In the spirit of T.E.
Lawrence, Thesiger spent five years exploring and wandering the deserts of Arabia.
With vivid descriptions and colorful anecdotes he narrates his stories, including two crossings of the Empty Quarter, among peoples who had never seen a European and considered it their duty to kill Christian infidels.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 368 pages, black & white illustrations
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 07/07/2007
- Category: Travel writing
- ISBN: 9780141442075
Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.
Review by thorold
A superb bit of travel writing: it's a surprise to discover from Rory Stewart's introduction in the Penguin Classics edition that Thesiger only decided to write the book as an afterthought, ten years after giving up his attempts to travel in the south of the Arabian peninsula. He certainly goes about it very much in his own way: although he's travelling in places where few or no Europeans have been before, he tells us relatively little about the landscape, and practically nothing about any man-made structures. What he's interested in, to an even greater extent than T.E. Lawrence, are the people who live in the desert, the <i>Bedu</I> (to use Thesiger's preferred term). He rambles on fascinatingly and delightfully for page after page about their politics, their everyday conversation, what they wear, how they eat, how their economy works, the complex ethics of life in a tribal society without central authority, and so on. It's a romantic interest, in more ways than one. Although the two stunningly beautiful teenage tribesmen who accompany him get the only really lyrical passages of description in the book and feature in some rather self-indulgent photographs, Thesiger does make it pretty clear that, whatever Lawrence may have found (according to Thesiger, Lawrence's companions were decadent town-dwellers, not real desert people), the Bedu would not have put up with any funny business. I think we can believe that it was all strictly platonic: it's clear that what he really loves (even though he moans about it frequently) is the way the desert forces a group of men into total intimacy. It's beautifully done, not kitschy at all: we get to know all of Thesiger's companions as real individuals with real personalities, histories, families, and so on, in a way that the self-obsessed Lawrence doesn't quite manage. Thesiger's well aware what a nuisance he has been to the people who helped him on his travels. By the end of the book it's becoming clear that he's too much of a nuisance: his attempt to get into the mountains of Oman almost starts a civil war, and he realises that he'll have to stop coming to Arabia.
Review by Pandaros
While this was an entertaining read and provided an excellent insight into Bedouin culture it remains in the shadow of Lawrence's Seven Pillars. In fact I believe that to be the case why Thesiger wasn't so inclined to publish it in the first place and faced with the fact that his thirst for exploration and part of his reason for taking up life with the Bedouin was because of Lawrence's experiences - which cannot be surpassed in terms of English literature in the Arab world. Thesiger's influence is made more clear in his portrayal of himself with matched closely the modesty Lawrence had and the poignancy with which he wrote of the Bedu. Thesiger certainly wasn't a modest man. But in short it is excellent reading.