Book review: The Unknown Sahara ~ Laszlo Almasy


The Unknown Sahara
Laszlo Almasy. Translation by Andras Zboray

The eastern Sahara’s Libyan Desert (covering Egypt, Libya, Sudan), was one of the last corners of the desert to be explored and still remains wild and barely visited. In the late 1920 and early 30s – the Hungarian Almasy (a contemporary of Bagnold and Clayton and fictionalised as the ‘English Patient’) criss-crossed this region in then newfangled motorcars which enabled systematic exploration of this hyper-arid quarter.


The book tells the stories of his many feats in the region: the first drive to Kufra from the west, the clarification of the Zarzura legend, the discovery of countless rock art sites including the famous Cave of the Swimmers, were some of his achievements.


Almasy’s energy and courage is inspiring. To be bombing around the most desolate corner of the Sahara in tinny Fords (2WD of course), dropping fuel and water here and there is quite a feat. You’ll also pick up some interesting Sahara lore that is not found elsewhere, in English at least. The book could use a sketch map to point out his wanderings. Even with three maps on the go I found it hard to work out where he was – especially around the Gilf.

That said, ‘Unknown Sahara’ is a desert classic finally available in English. Like Bagnold’s Libyan Sands (reviewed elsewhere), it reveals the very earliest days of Saharan motoring. Highly recommended.