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In Search of King Solomon's Mines

In Search of King Solomon's Mines

by Tahir Shah

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For more than a century Henry Rider Haggard's novel King Solomon's Mines has inspired generations of young men to set forth in search of adventure. But long before Rider Haggard's classic, explorers, theologians and scientists scoured the known world for the source of King Solomon's astonishing wealth. The Bible's wisest king built a temple at Jerusalem that was said


For more than a century Henry Rider Haggard's novel King Solomon's Mines has inspired generations of young men to set forth in search of adventure. But long before Rider Haggard's classic, explorers, theologians and scientists scoured the known world for the source of King Solomon's astonishing wealth. The Bible's wisest king built a temple at Jerusalem that was said to be more fabulous than any other landmark in the ancient world. It was adorned with an abundance of gold, gleaned from a mysterious land known as Ophir.

Taking his leads from a mixture of texts including The Septuagint, the earliest known form of the Bible, as well as using geological, geographical and folkloric sources, Tahir Shah sets out in search for Solomon's gold mines. For him the obvious place to look is Ethiopia, in the horn of Africa.

The ensuing journey takes him to a remote cliff-face monastery where the monks pull visitors up on a leather rope, to the ruined castles of Gondar, and to the rock hewn churches at Lalibela. Then in the south of the country Shah discovers a massive illegal gold mine, itself like something out of the Old Testament, with thousands of men, women and children digging with their hands. But the hardest leg of the journey is to the 'cursed mountain' of Tullu Wallel where legend says there lies an ancient shaft, once the entrance to Solomon's mines.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
In making this journey Shah was following, by his own ready admission, the trail charted by H. Rider Haggard in his once-famous novel King Solomon's Mines (1885), "a tour de force of Victorian literature, a swashbuckling tale which has appealed to generations of young men," inspiring them "to leave their ordinary lives behind and go in search of adventure … to hunt big game and to track down treasure." The book is fiction pure and simple, but the appeal it makes to our inner longing for adventure is entirely real. Much the same quality is to be found in Tahir Shah's engaging, perspicacious -- and presumably nonfictional -- book. — Jonathan Yardley
The New Yorker
Shah, a British-educated Afghan aristocrat, arrived in Addis Ababa a few years ago intent on finding the Biblical gold of Solomon. As a historical detective, he's a bust -- content with a bogus map and half-baked ideas. His only asset is an ironclad earnestness that borders on the pathological. Blithely descending into bat-infested caves at the merest hint of success, he really believes he's going to find the gold at any moment. Shah's pratfalls garnish his quirky tour of contemporary Ethiopia -- a land with all of the ills of modernity and none of its benefits. Ultimately, Shah wins you over with the mad purity of his quest. As he wedges into a Land Cruiser with twenty-three other people or worms his way down mine shafts, he displays the stoic grace of the Victorian explorers he so admires.
Publishers Weekly
Travel writer Shah (Sorcerer's Apprentice; Trail of Feathers) paid 600 shekels in a Jerusalem souk for a dubious map of the route to King Solomon's mines; he admits, "I have an insatiable appetite for questionable souvenirs." The London-based writer is also fond of danger: "As soon as there's a bomb, an earthquake, a tidal wave or a riot, I call the travel agent and book cut-price seats." But the ultimate thrill is a challenging mission, and this time, it's finding the biblical land of Ophir, legendary source of the gold for King Solomon's Temple and perhaps of the Queen of Sheba's riches as well. History and geography point to Ethiopia. In Addis Ababa, Shah hires a vocally Christian taxi driver who becomes his guide, and the two set out on the quest. They wander rural Ethiopia, sleeping in brothels, slipping into illegal mines, walking through deserts in camel-led caravans and finally, riding mules to the alleged source of Solomon's gold. Along the way, Shah learns loads of useful things: prostitutes require customers to wash themselves with Coca Cola to avoid AIDS; the hyena-man of Harar feeds the hyenas nightly to keep them from carrying off the village children; gold miners fear disembowelment by thieves trying to extract the nuggets they've swallowed on the job. Does Shah get the gold in the end? Well... he's more Don Quixote than Indiana Jones. Shah is so entertaining, most readers won't realize that while walking on the wild side, they've also just done a quick course in Ethiopian history. 16 pages of b&w photos, one map. (May) Forecast: Given the rave reviews for Shah's previous books, this one should get good media attention, and Arcade plans a 15,000-copy first printing. Shah is a Pashtun Afghan, although his nationality isn't related to anything currently topical. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Rightfully called the Indiana Jones of contemporary archaeological expeditions, Shah was born into Afghan nobility but grew up in England. Here he sets out to find the mysterious mines of Ophir, where King Solomon, the Bible's wisest king, was supposed to have buried a fortune in gold. Tantalizing biblical passages, one florid novel, and two movies have turned these mines into the stuff of legend, and Shah boldly takes readers on his own journey of discovery. According to his reckoning, the mines should be in modern-day Ethiopia, so he set out on an adventure of a lifetime with a shifty bookseller named (no kidding) Ali Baba. Along the way, readers are treated to his accounts of everything from the California gold rush to a sadistic Sultan. Does he find the mines? If you were told, it would spoil the enjoyment found on every suspenseful, hilarious, and rollicking page of this literary treasure worth just as much as anything King Solomon could have found. Essential for public libraries.-Joseph L. Carlson, Allan Hancock Coll., Santa Maria, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Studying an old map he purchased in the Jerusalem bazaar that supposedly showed the location of King Solomon's mines ignited in Shah a dormant interest in actually finding them. Arriving in Ethiopia, he hired a taxi driver who rapidly became interpreter, guide, historian, companion, Christian missionary, and more. They visited legal and illegal gold mines, explored ancient sites, and identified and visited areas important to their goal. They experienced total immersion in the cultures of Ethiopia. Transportation became the biggest challenge whether in the form of buses, vans, on foot, or by mule, for roads were often little more than beaten-earth pathways filled with rocks, holes, and other hazards. Tired of various modes of travel, they hired a car, whose driver chewed qat, a mildly addictive and narcotic leaf that manifested itself in the form of erratic driving, and resulted in an impressive amount of roadkill. Snatches of humor helped to alleviate the constant scenario of poverty just as the generosity of the Ethiopians soothed some of the rigors of the trip. Students interested in adventure, history, African culture, or biblical history will find themselves caught up in the book's excitement and drama.-Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Meet the Author

Tahir Shah is the author of fifteen books, many of which chronicle a wide range of outlandish journeys through Africa, Asia and the Americas. For him, there's nothing so important as deciphering the hidden underbelly of the lands through which he travels. Shunning well-trodden tourist paths, he avoids celebrated landmarks, preferring instead to position himself on a busy street corner or in a dusty café and observe life go by. Insisting that we can all be explorers, he says there's wonderment to be found wherever we are - it's just a matter of seeing the world with fresh eyes. Shah's forthcoming novel is titled CASABLANCA BLUES. Blaine Williams is a thirty-something New Yorker with an mid-life crisis and an obsession of the movie Casablanca. His world collapsing around him, he flees to the one place he thinks he knows and understands. A fragment of security in his troubled imagination, Casablanca the genuine article reveals itself as a roller coaster ride of danger, intrigue, and true love — a realm where nothing is what it seems. He recently published a collection of his entitled TRAVELS WITH MYSELF, a body of work as varied and as any, with reportage pieces as diverse as the women on America's Death Row, to the trials and tribulations of his encounter in a Pakistani torture jail. Another recent work, IN ARABIAN NIGHTS, looks at how stories are used in cultures such as Morocco, as a matrix by which information, values and ideas are passed on from one generation to the next. That book follows on the heels of the celebrated CALIPH'S HOUSE: A Year in Casablanca, lauded as one of Time Magazine's Top 10 Books of the year. His other works include an epic quest through Peru's cloud forest for the greatest lost city of the Incas (HOUSE OF THE TIGER KING), as well as a journey through Ethiopia in search of the source of King Solomon's gold (IN SEARCH OF KING SOLOMON'S MINES). Previous to that, Shah published an account of a journey through the Amazon on the trail of the Birdmen of the Amazon (TRAIL OF FEATHERS), as well as a book of his experiences in India, as a godman's pupil (SORCERER'S APPRENTICE). Tahir Shah's books have appeared in thirty languages and in more than seventy editions. They are celebrated for their original viewpoint, and for combining hardship with vivid description. He also makes documentary films, which are shown worldwide on National Geographical Television, and The History Channel. The latest, LOST TREASURE OF AFGHANISTAN, has been screened on British TV and shown worldwide. While researching the programme Shah was arrested along with his film crew and incarcerated in a Pakistani torture jail, where they spent sixteen terrifying days and nights. His other documentaries include: HOUSE OF THE TIGER KING, SEARCH FOR THE LOST CITY OF GOLD, and THE SEARCH FOR KING SOLOMON'S MINES. And, in addition to documentaries, Shah writes for the big screen. His best known work in this genre is the award-winning Imax feature JOURNEY TO MECCA, telling the tale of the fourteenth century Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta's first pilgrimage to Mecca. Tahir Shah lives at Dar Khalifa, a sprawling mansion set squarely in the middle of a Casablanca shantytown. He's married to the graphic designer, Rachana Shah, and has two children, Ariane and Timur. His father was the Sufi writer, Idries Shah.

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