I just finished one of the most engaging novels that I have read all year, called Tuareg by Alberto Vázquez-Figueroa. Nevertheless, I fell into an error that I have recently been committing quite often.
In Immortality, Milan Kundera employs a fictional conversation between Hemingway and Goethe to highlight what Kundera sees as a major problem in contemporary literally criticism: people think more about the lives of the author than about the author’s literally product. In other words, instead of analyzing a novel, the critic delves into the author’s personal life, like a theatre audience watching a play from backstage behind the curtains instead of from their seats.
Of course, that is not exactly what I do. I don’t read a book thinking about the author’s life, but I do read the book very much conscious of the author’s creative process. I read it like a person who is watching a painter in the process of painting, rather than just looking at the final product. This is understandable, considering that I often fanticize about writing novels (although I really don’t have a story to tell). So while I read, I am constantly asking myself why the author has chosen a certain style or plot turn. Many times this is in admiration as I am honestly impressed how the author has developed characters or plot lines and especially how they are sustained throughout a story. I often wonder about how much preparation, research, and other pre-writing the author had to engage in before actually writing the novel.
With Tuareg, this was also the case. I was very impressed with the novel and its ability to get my attention and make me root for its hero. But, I also became a backseat driver, especially towards the end of the novel when I had very much wanted the story to take a different turn. This made the story’s finale less bearable as I felt myself literally trying to steer it into a different direction.
In any event, the novel (written in Spanish in 1980) is excellent, but unfortunately has not been translated into English. It definitely has all of the ingredients to make it an international bestseller. The story is about Gacel Sayah, the head of a Tuareg clan. After having received two unsuspected visitors, Gacel begins a journey that challenges the post-colonial model of what is most likely Algeria, but could be applicable to any post colonial African nation.
The story has three strengths. The first is its carismatic hero who, in the tradition of all great literally heros, fights to uphold his most basic principles while limiting his words to a bare minimum. He is one of those heros who even his enemies are fascinated with and in awe of.
Second, the hero’s journey through the various Saharan deserts and his unique ability to survive the extremities further hightens the story’s suspense. The desert location and exotic subject matter immediately made me think how well it could be made into a movie — like the cimatic adaptions of the novels The English Patient and The Sheltering Sky. Sadly, I just discovered that Mark Harmon starred in the role of Gacel in the horrible Italian filmatic version of the novel, called Tuareg, Warrior of the Desert. What a shame!
Third, the novel can also be seen as a political or social critique of post-colonial North Africa and how it has only succeeded in replacing the French with a new internal colony that will ultimately destroy the ethnic richness and diversity of its various peoples. This is reinforced by the idea that the Tuareg people represent freedom (complete self autonomy) and an instrinsic aversion to boundries (considering that they live in the various Saharan deserts where pinpointing a border is impossible).
Of course, the story also does a great job of romanticizing the Tuareg people, their way of life, moral strength, and determination. As a matter of fact, at least from what I discovered in some background reading, the Tuareg are unique in the Muslim world (and the world in general), in that they are martilinenal (similar to Judiasm), and also that the men cover their faces while the women do not. Here are two videos that depict the Tuareg (one and two).
In any event, if you can read Spanish (or can find the Italian, French, or German translations), then I would definitely recommend Tuareg. It has all of the ingredients for a great summer read.