Seasons of Sand (Hardcover) by Ernst Aebi
at Barnes and Nobles
FROM THE PUBLISHER
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.
FROM THE CRITICS
Foreign editions for
SEASONS OF SAND:
|• EIN MAKKARONIBAUM IN DER SAHARA, Droemer Knaur, German
|• 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.
|• 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.
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
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.
—Brad Newsham, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLER
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...
—Julius Walker, FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
This is a contemporary GULLIVER'S TRAVELS or even SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON,
but with a twist...
—Amy Baker Sandback, EXPLORERS JOURNAL Book review