… Skeletons is a page-turner, replete with gruesome details about thirst, a diet of dried locusts and animal bone marrow, relentless exposure to the sun and the changes in bodily functions that result. King's plot is right out of Homer: Will the stalwart captain and his mates ever see home again? … Even armchair adventurers satiated with exotic travelogues will appreciate heroism amid adversity in this fast-paced account of slow torture -- and an almost-happy ending.
When the American cargo ship Commerce ran aground on the northwestern shores of Africa in 1815 along with its crew of 12 Connecticut-based sailors, the misfortunes that befell them came fast and hard, from enslavement to reality-bending bouts of dehydration. King's aggressively researched account of the crew's once-famous ordeal reads like historical fiction, with unbelievable stories of the seamen's endurance of heat stroke, starvation and cruelty by their Saharan slavers. King (Patrick O'Brian: A Life Revealed), who went to Africa and, on camel and foot, retraced parts of the sailors' journey, succeeds brilliantly at making the now familiar sandscape seem as imposing and new as it must have been to the sailors. Every dromedary step thuds out from the pages with its punishing awkwardness, and each drop of brackish found water reprieves and tortures with its perpetual insufficiency. King's leisurely prose style rounds out the drama with well-parceled-out bits of context, such as the haggling barter culture of the Saharan nomadic Arabs and the geological history of Western Africa's coastline. Zahara (King's use of older and/or phonetic spellings helps evoke the foreignness of the time and place) impresses with its pacing, thoroughness and empathy for the plight of a dozen sailors heaved smack-hard into an unknown tribalism. By the time the surviving crew members make it back to their side of civilization, reader and protagonist alike are challenged by new ways of understanding culture clash, slavery and the place of Islam in the social fabric of desert-dwelling peoples. Maps, illus. (Feb. 16) Forecast: A major media campaign, including ads in the New York Times Book Review, USA Today and Time; radio and TV interviews; and a six-city author tour will ignite interest in this captivating adventure tale. The book has earned advance praise from Nathaniel Philbrick (In the Heart of the Sea) and Doug Stanton (In Harm's Way). Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
In 1815, 12 men boarded the merchant ship Commerce in Connecticut, bound for the Cape Verde Islands after a brief stopover in Gibraltar. Weather and unfamiliar surroundings, however, caused the ship to wreck on the inhospitable coast of what is now Mauritania. Taken as slaves by regional nomads and separated (some never to be seen again), the dozen sailors endured great hardships. King (Patrick O'Brian: A Life Revealed) rivets with this account of Captain Riley's nine weeks of captivity: traveling inland nearly 800 miles, then back west, and finally north to Morocco, where he was luckily ransomed by an American consul. Referencing Riley's journals and those of crewman Robbin (which became best sellers in their day), King writes an astoundingly researched treatise on Islamic customs, nomadic life, and desert natural history, as well as detailed descriptions of dehydration, starvation, and caloric intake. Included are an 85-title bibliography, detailed maps of the northwest coast of Mauritania and Morocco, a glossary of Arabic terms, and wonderful photographs of King's own trip as he retraced Captain Riley's journey of enslavement. A wonderful, inspiring story of humankind's will to survive in spite of inhospitable conditions and inhumane treatment, this work should be in all public libraries, maritime libraries, and African collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/03.]-Jim Thorsen, Weaverville, NC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
The horrendous ordeal of 11 American seamen, shipwrecked on the Atlantic coast of North Africa and then sold into slavery, grippingly chronicled by adventure writer King (Harbors and High Seas, 1996, etc.). The War of 1812 had just ended, and Captain James Riley was hungry to get back to work on the brig Commerce, sailing out of Connecticut to buy cheap and sell dear in the wake of the British wartime blockade. But strange weather and bad luck sent Riley's ship onto the rocks of Atlantic Africa, then more bad luck put him and ten shipmates in the hands of nomads who took them into slavery. What happened over the next two months was so extraordinary that the narrative flies under its own steam, though King ably guides its progression and the reader's absorption, using two firsthand accounts published after the event as his source material. The degree of privation the men suffered was so absurd it's a wonder the nomads kept them at all, for their work value as slaves was scant. Yet there they are: sun-blasted, sand-blasted, wind-blasted, thighs chafed to bleeding ribbons from riding camels, feet shredded to the bone by sharp rocks, so thirsty that drinking urine was a comfort, so hungry they ate pieces of infected flesh that had been cut off the camels and the skin peeling off their own bodies. The men were split up, briefly reunited, then rudely separated; King plays these episodes like stringed instruments upon the reader's taut occupation with the proceedings. A lifetime of misery was packed into two months, after which six of the seamen, led by the worthy Riley, managed to convince a trader to buy them for the bounty he will receive from the European consul in Morocco. A jaw-droppingstory kept on edge, along with the reader: exquisite and excruciating screw-turning. (b&w maps and illustrations) Author tour. Agent: Jody Rein/Jody Rein Agency