Abel the Nomad

Bruce Chatwin

Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands and The Marsh Arabs are classics in line with Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta. Yet his new autobiographical sketch, Desert, Marsh and Mountain, though it borrows large chunks of the two earlier books, is more absorbing than either. The subtitle, ‘The World of a Nomad’, gives a clue about what he is up to. The nomad in question is Mr Thesiger himself, as he travels, by camel or on foot, in Africa or in Asia, among tribesmen who are – or were – for the most part nomadic. At first sight, the book appears to be a collection of short travel-pieces, illustrated with photographs by someone with an unerring sense of composition. A closer look reveals a declaration of faith that goes a long way towards explaining the ‘strange compulsion’ which drives men like Wilfred Thesiger to seek, and find, the consolation of the desert.

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