Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Salt Road by Jane Johnson

August 2010, Penguin/Viking
390 pages, Trade Paperback
Review Copy


Realistic historical and modern violence, rape, implied domestic abuse

Summary from Penguin
The desert lay before them, and the secrets of the amulet . . .

From Tafraout's magnificent mountainside, Isobel absorbs the heat and romance of the Moroccan vista before her, with mosque and homes scattered far below. But a mere slip sees her tumbling uncontrollably into the arms of handsome rescuer Taïb, who notices her unusual silver amulet, and that her fall has revealed a tiny scroll hidden within. Entranced by the possibilities of its intricate and illegible script, they set out for the Sahara in search of a Tuareg elder to unlock the riddles of its past.

Little does Izzy realize that the desert holds the key to more mysteries than the amulet's. From beneath the beating sun emerges nomadic Princess Mariata, whose stories of tortured love bind her to the precious talisman in Izzy's hands. She's battled the sands; she's found and lost love among its dunes. And where the amulet crosses both their paths, answers to the deepest secrets lie.

Liana's Thoughts
I was drawn to this book by the cover. The beautiful simplicity of a crescent moon over a pink sunset over orange dunes with the black shadow of a camel called to me. Is that a bad reason to want a book? I don't think so. The perfect moment of stillness on the cover called to me, promising a luxurious afternoon of reading.

The summary from the publisher doesn't do this book justice. I read the back and expected a high-paced thrill ride through crumbling ancient runes with a techno soundtrack pulsing in the background. Chapter one started slow, a yellow wigwam made of bamboo poles didn't fit my expectations.

By chapter three I was certain there would be no heart-racing chase scenes through pyramids of Giza. The pacing was slow, elegant, timeless.

In chapter nine, I thought I had the book pinned. Izzy was having dreams when she wore the amulet, obviously this meant she was dreaming of a past life, and lost love.

When Mariata is revealed to be living in 1960 the whole idea of past life and lost love was squashed. I was lost. I had no idea where the book was going, and I was loving every page.

The Salt Road is an idiom in the Berber culture for travel, life, and death. That is exactly what the book is about.

While reading I was caught up in the universality of the human condition. The Berber lifestyle is so foreign to my own, but Jane Johnson didn't write for the differences, she wrote about the similarities.

I laughed when the English Izzy drank a cup of sweet Morrocan tea. I envision the tea being much like the sweet tea served in the Deep South, tea that is really mint syrup in disguise. I cried when Mariata ran through the desert.

I love that Johnson didn't try to preach to the reader. To many authors would have fallen into the easy trap of forcing their political views on the reader. Or the equally tempting quagmire of allowing the plot to wallow in the ugliness of war and hate that forms a background for the story.

Johnson does neither. She doesn't gloss over the atrocities committed, but she doesn't let the pain weigh the book down. Throughout the novel The Salt Road remains light and airy as a lullaby floating through lazy afternoon sunlight. Beautiful, evocative, and inspiring, this is a book for the traveler, the student of life, and people who are willing to set aside preconceived prejudices and immerse themselves in another world.

Final Conclusion
"They were possessed by greed... God sent a flood across the land, followed by a drought and a plague of locusts, to teach them the value of things on which life depends..... Men never die for lack of gold." -pg201 The Salt Road

What really matters in life are the things that give life, that give joy, that build you up and make you better.

1 comment:

Mark Lawrence said...

A good review for an excellent book. It surprised me too!