Aiming to track down a small oasis town deep in the Sahara, some of whose generous inhabitants came to her rescue on a black day in her adolescence, Annie Hawes leaves her home in the olive groves of Italy and sets off along the south coast of the Mediterranean. Travelling through Morocco and Algeria she eats pigeon pie with a family of cannabis farmers, and learns about the habits of djinns; she encounters citizens whose protest against the tyrannical King Hassan takes the form of attaching colanders to their television aerials - a practice he soon outlaws - and comes across a stone-age method of making olive-oil, still going strong. She allows a ten-year-old to lead her into the fundamentalist strongholds of the suburbs of Algiers - where she makes a good friend. Plunging southwards, regardless, into the desert, she at last shares a lunch of salt-cured Saharan haggis with her old friends, in a green and pleasant palm grove perfumed by flowering henna: once, it seems, the favourite scent of the Prophet Mohammed. She discovers at journey's end that life in a date-farming oasis, haunting though its songs may be, is not so simple and uncomplicated as she has imagined. Annie Hawes has legions of fans. Her writing has the well-built flow of fiction and the self-effacing honesty of a journal.
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