Book review: Impossible Journey ~ Michael Asher


Michael Asher (Penguin)

Asher is a modern-day Thesiger (Asher wrote Thesiger’s biography), with a similar distrust of cars and a love for the desert and its people. In 1986, accompanied by newly wed wife, Mariantonietta (who photographed their journey), they succeeded in completing Geoffrey Moorhouse’s failed attempt to cross the Sahara from Mauritania to the Nile. Unlike Moorhouse (The Fearful Void), the Ashers had worked in the desert for some years and the author was familiar with nomadic customs, selection of guides and the all-important purchase and care of camels.

Once underway they set a gruelling pace that even some of the guides found tough. The mentally disorienting ego loss and intolerable stress they experienced towards the end of their trek comes close to some of ‘The Sheltering Sky’s themes. It’s as well to remember that countless Moors and other pilgrims may have completed the same crossing over the last thousand years. As one perplexed Nigerien border official ruefully observed: “What will you westerners think of next?” That may be so but it’s still one of the best accounts of a long, long camel journey across the Sahara that wasn’t just quickie to justify a book.