Synopses & Reviews
Century after century, camels and their drivers have traveled the sands between the fabled city of Timbuktu and the notorious salt mines of Taoudenni, hauling supplies from the proverbial end of the earth to an even farther-flung outpost, deep in Mali's slice of the Sahara. They return laden with tombstone-sized slabs of solid salt. While nearly all of the great trans-Saharan trade routes have disappeared, the Caravan of White Gold--so called because the salt was once literally worth its weight in gold--marches on, spared by unmatched isolation.
Hearing that the caravans were threatened by the introduction of trucks, author Benanav joined a caravan, becoming one of the few Westerners to do so. He visited the modern city of Timbuktu, a sprawling, dilapidated town of mud-brick dwellings, and haggled to join a caravan to a destination once used as a jail, the salt mines. Following his amused guide, Walid, Benanav lived for weeks among the camel drivers, marching eighteen hours a day for nearly a thousand miles through sandstorms and searing heat. Along the way, he learned how to care for and ride camels, mastered the threecup morning tea ceremony, and played doctor to impoverished salt miners.
A gripping narrative of the unique Islamic culture, at a time when Western access to the Islamic world is increasingly limited, Men of Salt is a revelation, and an important addition to the literature of history and of travel.
"Even if readers don't find the idea of spending 40 harrowing days with a caravan crossing some of the world's most unforgiving desert as enticing as Benanav does, that doesn't mean they won't quickly devour his thrilling account of that otherworldly journey. The Caravan of White Gold was named for the voyage nomads have taken for centuries in search of the lonely, moonlike salt mines of Taoudenni, Mali. To a seasoned travel writer and veteran outdoorsman like Benanav, the opportunity to take part in such a journey through the brutal Tanezrouft region of the Sahara was impossible to resist, and it isn't long after hearing about it that he's in Timbuktu, Mali, ready to set off across an area four times the size of England, referred to alternately as 'The Land of Thirst' and 'The Land of Terror.' Like many voyagers into the unknown, Benanav does his best to research where he's going and peppers his travelogue with well-placed historical background; he's also smart enough to see where his research and assumptions about the fascinating nomadic culture are utterly wrong. There is romanticism, especially in Benanav's warm accounts of his fellow travelers, but there's also an awareness of the deadly perils of their world, especially the salt mines themselves, so desolate they were used as a gulag for political prisoners until 1991. This is that rare work that takes readers beyond their imaginations. Photos. Agent, Jennifer Joel. (Jan. 15)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Even if readers don't find the idea of spending 40 harrowing days with a caravan crossing some of the world's most unforgiving desert as enticing as Benanav does, that doesn't mean they won't quickly devour his thrilling account of that otherworldly journey. This is that rare work that takes readers beyond their imaginations."-- Publishers Weekly
Benanavs evocative and beautiful writing
appeals to all the senses.”--Library Journal
a rousing adventure, with enough rancid meat, dust storms, thirsty days, and star-spangled nights to keep the pages turning.”-Natural Histroy
So the next time you fret as an entrepreneur over how to meet payroll or perfect an elevator pitch, just think of your counterparts in the salt trade as they burn to a crisp and munch on sand-sprinkled meals. Youve got it easy.”--Harvard University Business magazine & websiteThis is a harrowing and stupendous journey
”-- New York Times Book Review
"Men of Salt
is wondrously alive with suspense and imagery. Benanav is a true explorer, a young lone-wolf sharing with readers his search for the mystery of far-off lands where hardly any Americans dare to tread."--Arthur Gelb, author of City Room
"An engaging account of proudly going native, enduring and prevailing on a rugged road."--Kirkus Reviews - October 15, 2005:
An American's life-or-death adventure to the salt mines of the Sahara Desert
Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" Seasonal Pick
In fact, there was no road at all, just an endless stretch of desert sand called "The Land of Terror" by the nomads who cross it, and described by author Michael Benanav with startling insight in this compelling narrative.
Benanav joined what is known as the Caravan of White Gold - so-called because the salt was once literally worth its weight in gold - on its mission into the deadly heart of the Sahara to haul back gleaming slabs of solid salt for sale at market. He'd been seized by the idea after coming across an article about the dying days of the caravan: "It was that feeling known by those of us who don't so much take journeys as are taken by journeys: hearing the call of a particular place for a particular purpose that will not be denied. It was the kind of trip I was born to take."
Following his amused guide, Walid, Benanav lived for weeks among the camel drivers as they traveled eighteen hours a day for nearly a thousand miles without a map or landmark in sight, through sandstorms and searing heat. Along the way, he learned how to care for and ride camels, became a medic to injured salt miners, and grappled with the dilemmas of cultural extinction created by the ever-widening impact of globalization.
Men of Salt is a revelation, introducing an important new voice to the tradition of travel literature.
Benanav became one of the few Westerners to ever join the Caravan of White Gold. Following his amused guide, Benanav lived for weeks among the camel drivers, marching 18 hours a day for nearly a thousand miles through sandstorms and searing heat to the salt mines of the Sahara. Now he shares his story in this gripping narrative of a unique Islamic culture.
About the Author
writes and photographs for the travel section of The New York Times
. He has also written for other national newspapers, and was a contributing editor to The Salt Journal
. He has also worked as a mountain and desert guide in the American West. He lives in northern New Mexico.