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A Short Stint in Tibet: Captured by Chinese Horse Soldiers, A Couple is Taken on a Wild Journey of Body and Mind Seasons of Sand (Hardcover) by Ernst Aebi

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Editorial Reviews

In 1987, Ernst Aebi happened on a dismal little village in the Sahara, seven days by camel from Timbuktu. Its name was Araouane, and for centuries its abundant water supply had made it a bustling hub of the caravan routes. But now, with the region's trade all but dried up, it had been reduced to a squalid cluster of shacks with a population of 120 who found themselves virtually adrift in the desert. It was a tableau of misery Aebi couldn't forget. He returned to Araouane with a truckload of date palms, seeds, and farm equipment, a vision of self-sufficiency he was determined to share, and an antic sense of humor that would prove to be a crucial tool. The local dialect eluded him. The villagers had never seen, let alone tasted, vegetables. It hadn't rained in more than four decades, and the water level had sunk to 170 feet below the sand. An ancient class structure supported a white merchant class that ruled the town from afar and kept in perpetual thrall the blacks who worked as their slaves mining salt. Little by little, though, Aebi achieved success. The garden began to flourish, and those who wouldn't tend it learned they wouldn't eat. The villagers built a school, then a hotel. Former masters worked alongside former slaves, and for the first time, men alongside women. The villagers were introduced to money, and with it, to the complexities of competition and ownership, and the means as well as the hope for a better life. Most important, they tasted self-reliance, a gift that their ongoing struggles cannot erase. Seasons of Sand is a great and often hilarious story, a real-life fable of altruism and adventure for anyone who has ever wondered whether one person can make a difference in the world.

Foreign editions for

• EIN MAKKARONIBAUM IN DER SAHARA, Droemer Knaur, German Hardcover.
EIN MAKKARONIBAUM IN DER SAHARA, Droemer Knaur, German Hardcover.

• EIN GARTEN IN DER WUSTE, Knaur, German Paperback
EIN GARTEN IN DER WUSTE, Knaur, German Paperback

• EIN MAKKARONIBAUM IN DER SAHARA also as a Reader's Digest condensed version in IM SPIEGEL DER ZEIT.
EIN MAKKARONIBAUM IN DER SAHARA also as a Reader's Digest condensed version in IM SPIEGEL DER ZEIT.

• SAISONS DE SABLE, French abbreviated translation of SEASONS OF SAND in ENQUETES ET TEMOINAGES.
Publishers Weekly The solitude and wildness of the Saharan desert and the lives of the nomads who travel it become palpable in Aebi's amazing account of his search for a unique adventure. A romantic who longed to find some remaining unexplored ``white space'' on the map, this former artist and loft designer tagged along with a rented camel and a hired cameleer on a caravan headed for the infamous salt mines of Taoudenni in Mali, a two-month trek through the Sahara from Timbuktu. A stopover at Arouane, a historic desert village known for its good water, changed his life. Once a trans-Saharan trade center where caravans of 10,000 camels would stop to drink, Arouane was, by the time Aebi visited, a fly-infested, dirty ``hell on earth'' without a tree or any other vegetation, whose population had dropped from thousands to just 125 people. The author was seized by the idea of helping the village reclaim itself--``It wasn't any highblown sense of charity that had me entertaining such thoughts,'' he explains. ``It was a challenge, a bit of excitement.'' Frank and humorous, filled with marvelous people and the details of his own daily life, Aebi's book tells an original tale of how he won over Arouane's inhabitants, taught them to garden, doctored them and helped them gain a sense of controlling their own destinies, only in the end to see many of his achievements sacrificed to nearby political rebellions that made the village a target of attacks and once again destroyed nearly everything but its spirit. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)

Library Journal 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.

Kirkus Reviews Amazing tale of how Aebi-an N.Y.C.-based artist, loft- renovator, and explorer-breathes 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, beets-any 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 oasis-only to learn that Tuareg insurrectionists have overrun Araoure since hisdeparture, undoing much of his magic. The stuff that dreams are made of-and it's all real. (Sixteen pages of color photos)

SEASONS OF SAND entertains right through its surprise, disturbing ending, and leaves one with a sense of an exotic place and its people — everything that can be asked of a good travel book.


With the guts of Hemingway and the erudition of Sir Richard Burton, Aebi's writing is pure exhilaration. Amazing grace under pressure and a graceful zaniness pressed like wild flowers between so many pages, the result is deeply moving, wildly funny, and profoundly impressive.

—Paul William Roberts, RIVER IN THE DESERT

...buoyed by natural confidence and the fact that he seems not to have heard of the word "imperialism," Mr. Aebi takes Araouane by storm. SEASONS OF SAND is an interesting book...

—Francin Prose, NEW YORK TIMES Book review

Ernst Aebi's adventures in the Sahara, his pilgrimages to the peoples of the Village of Araouane, represent the very best of the undertakings of the memberships of The Explorers Club. His book, SEASONS OF SAND, brilliantly communicates the audacity and complexity of his unique enterprises in the desert. SEASONS OF SAND will become a classic in the library of the Explorers Club.

—David Heath Swanson, President THE EXPLORERS CLUB 1991-93

... entertainning. This book may remind former consular and AID officers why they decieded to "pack it in" and retire...


This is a contemporary GULLIVER'S TRAVELS or even SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, but with a twist...

—Amy Baker Sandback, EXPLORERS JOURNAL Book review