When life gets a little tough for me, I tend to turn to non-fiction books about situations much worse than mine that people have survived – this usually helps to change my perspective a little and make me appreciate what I have, rather than what I don’t. Normally a dedicated introvert, even I have started to struggle a little with lockdown (helped by working from home) and so a little perspective adjusting was in order – this book fulfilled that perfectly.
Skeletons on the Zahara tells the terrible story of the crew of the US brig Commerce that in 1815 found itself shipwrecked on the western coast of the Sahara. While the ship was lost, the crew survived…only to find themselves robbed, enslaved, and marched near death across the desert. Even if they hadn’t been enslaved, life in the desert was brutal, relying on camels to provide pretty much all of their nutrients – when the camel’s ran out of milk, their urine was next on the menu – and with everyone you came across a potentially dangerous enemy. If you’ve ever wondered what happens to a dangerously sunburnt person being rubbed in animal fat and then marched under the desert sun, this book has the answer (hint – it’s really not pretty)
Ship’s captain James Riley would do what he could to keep his men together and find their way to freedom through the striking of a friendship with one of their captors – a man who unfortunately also had enemies of his own – leading to the most tense moments of the book as they edged towards liberation at the same time as a new potential owner made his move.
A gripping page-turner that more than did the job of making me feel grateful to be in lockdown after all, this tale of survival against all odds is worth a read.