Book Review: Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival

408147There is no worst possible fate for a sailor, having sailed around the world myself, than being shipwrecked; that is unless the shipwreck results in being captured and and held as a slave to barbarous and malevolent Muslims in the Sahara desert!

Such was the fate of American Captain James Riley and his crew of eleven men. The year was 1815 when the brig (two-masted sailing ship) ran around off the coast of Africa. One would think local human beings would come to the aid of men in dire straits, but instead, for these civilized Christians, the exact opposite happened.

No sooner had the men reached the shore and caught their breath from their arduous ordeal, families of desert dwellers swarmed them, stole the meager supply of goods salvaged from the wreck, stripped them naked, beat them with sticks and took them into captivity as slaves.

This two-month incredible journey will leave the reader wondering how humans can be so inhumane. Yet, in the midst of starvation, dehydration, illness and injuries, there are some who while still treacherous, show a measure of compassion, such as Sidi Hamet. But is his limited compassion enough? Will the men survive? How long can the human body last in such extreme conditions? Such are these and other questions presented in the riveting account of Skeletons on the Zahara.

The original story, written in the 19th century was a best seller in its day and one that influenced and shaped the life of Abraham Lincoln, who read it as a boy. Skeletons on the Zahara is one of my favorite survival stories of all time and I recommend it to those who are not faint of heart!

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