Aebi is described on the jacket cover as a ``modern-day swashbuckler and Renaissance man,'' but his adventures in an ancient Saharan village in Mali fall somewhat short of the image of Robin Hood. Aebi sought to transform a dusty village into a prosperous town boasting hotel and gardens. With his own money and ambition, he partially succeeded, but desert rebels and his own arrogance eventually stopped his plans. As social commentary on the lingering reality of the colonial mentality, the book illustrates the point well. It is also worth reading as a fascinating story. Recommended for larger public libraries.-- Bill Rau, Takoma Park, Md.
Amazing tale of how Aebian N.Y.C.-based artist, loft- renovator, and explorerbreathes new life into a decaying village in the depths of the Sahara Desert. Aebi's adventure begins in 1988 when, inspired by reading Richard Trench's classic Forbidden Sands, he hires a caravan to cross the North African sands from Timbuktu to the salt mines of Taoudenni. This arduous camel trek, during which Aebi chews on sheep spleen and slurps dung-filled water, leads him to the forgotten town of Araoure, population 145, which he instantly appraises as "hell on earth." Here, women snare locusts for dinner, while men sip tea and despair, waiting for the rain that hasn't come in 42 years. But something blossoms in Aebi's heart, and he decides to save the village. Back in New York, he learns Arabic; in Switzerland, he buys a truck; in Algiers, he collects tomatoes, figs, beetsany crop that will flourish in the desert. What follows is a stunning experiment in social engineering, as the author teaches the villagers to grow their own food and overcome their old prejudices: Blacks and Arabs, formerly divided by a strict caste system, learn to share responsibilities. Veiled women do work traditionally reserved for men. Aebi introduces money and with it "the ugly sin of greed." A hotel goes up and attracts foreign tourists. Araoure's old guard fights the revolution, as does the federal bureaucracy, but to no avail; Aebi pushes through changes with carrot and stick, becoming the town's doctor, technician, cheerleader, and demiurge. After three years he heads back to New York, leaving behind a booming desert oasisonly to learn that Tuareg insurrectionists have overrun Araoure since hisdeparture, undoing much of his magic. The stuff that dreams are made ofand it's all real. (Sixteen pages of color photos)