Synopsis

Tuareg is pronounced TWAH’reg

Diligently researched and poetically written, this sweepingly romantic historical adventure is played against a background of the early 19th century African Slave Trade (1828-1830).

Locations: Virginia; London; Paris; Gibraltar; Timbuctoo; the Turkish kasba at Algiers; a Christian Missionary station; African slave king’s village; and the Sahara Desert camp of the Tuaregs.

Here the fortunes of a young Virginia plantation woman, Fleur Caldwell; Roger Gregoire, a Frenchman spying against the slave trade; and a noble, but rough-edged desert chief, the Tuareg, Suleiman Mohamed ben Omar Khalifa, are woven into a tapestry of dramatic historical events. Inevitably these three become intimately involved.

Enter a world of abolitionists, slave ships, shipwrecks, camel caravans, desert wars, harems, sensual eunuchs, and the July 1830 invasion of Algiers by France’s armed forces.

In a sense, the novel’s broader aspect prefigures today’s divide between the respective religions and ideologies of the East and the West.

Altogether a thrilling read!

Excerpt 1:

At first light a lone rider spotted a speck of white far off on the desert floor; instinct whispered it was human; premonition told him it was alive. Seeing airborne vultures, the rider dug heels into his camel’s flank. "Run, Lachlar!" he commanded. "Run as toward an enemy!"

The rough-hewn face of the rider echoes the shapes of desert mountain crags: long nose, straight and ridge-like; angular cheeks, as if sculpted by the wind; rock chin covered by a black beard sprinkled gray; lean, strong body – testimony to forty-three years on his beloved Sahara.

Swathed in a dark blue burnous, what little skin showed through this swirling fabric was the color of a lion’s coat, but, oddly, tinged with blue. Save for glittering black eyes, no other feature was visible; his face was veiled. He was
a Tuareg. A ‘blue man’ of the desert.

Excerpt 2:

Fleur, realizing it was harmful to remain aft where she had been imagining the ship’s wake as her connection with home, turned and walked briskly to the prow.

Up front, the wind was keener; the prow, a knife in the water; the sea spray, therapeutic - blowing a strong salt smell in her face. Ahead lay a limitless sheet. Open. Flat. Clean. The spread of an unwritten book. Her eyes swept the sky above, scanned the broad expanse ahead. At the edge where the waters finally cascade off the ends of the earth, mighty cloud fortresses thrust up -- heroic sentinels -- guarding the entire eastern horizon before plunging back once again, lighter, in the south.

Strengthened by the sight, she turned and went back down to her cabin. She did not see the clouds break up into angry black enemies, nor the war that began among them, lighting the entire sky in her path ahead with electric blue flashings.

Excerpt 3:

The longboat docked and a beaming Michel Jolivette leaped ashore. Gregoire swept him into a bear-like embrace.

“Ho!” the Parisienne yelped, save your strength for the wenches. Now where is this “innocent life” you mentioned as being in danger? I trust it’s a she.”

“What else? But she attached herself to me, not the reverse.”

“A likely story!”

“Wait! You don’t know the story. In my rooms we can eat, drink, and talk through the night, as in days of yore.”

“Gregoire! I want the sordid details now! Is she English, Spanish, Chinese? Better than the gypsies we had in the barn the night we escaped the king’s raid? Remember how they almost bit our weapons off? Speak, man!”

“Not here.”

Mon ami! This is your wenching colleague.”

“She’s American.”

“American? Mon Dieu, you’ve branched out!”

Slavery: In 1808, after fifty-plus years of soul-searching, Parliament, largely through the efforts of William Wilberforce, outlawed the owning of slaves. Which is not to say the practice ceased. In the novel, Whitaker Caldwell is typical of those slave smugglers forced underground.

Abolition Movement: The fictitious abolitionist, Gardner Cole, follows in the footsteps of history’s great English Abolitionists: Wilberforce, Clark, Fox, and Buxton.

But in a quid pro quo, Cole’s laissez faire attitude toward slave-smuggling ensures that his slave-trader friend, Caldwell, periodically donates a portion of his ill-gotten gains to Cole’s LONDON MISSIONARY SOCIETY. The men understand each other.

Competition for Commercial Markets: Many French and English explorers died trying to unlock Africa’s secrets.

Timbuctoo. Was this fabled place really a ‘golden city,’ a market for trade? The Frenchman Rene Caillie provided answer by becoming the first European to visit and return safely from there. Advantage, France.

The Niger River. Explorers had seen it. But did the river lose itself in Saharan sand? Empty into the Atlantic? Finding its delta would open a natural avenue to markets in Africa’s remote interior. Britain found the delta.

Naval Might: England’s Royal Navy stopped, searched, and confiscated all slave-running vessels, including French. France, still smarting from the defeat of Napoleon’s fleet in 1798 by Lord Nelson, determined to even the score.

France Invades Algiers. July 1830: France’s establishing of a base on the Mediterranean’s southern shore threatened English merchant shipping, but also helped quash the rapacious attacks of the Barbary corsairs – the terrorists of their day!

British West Indies sugar-planting aristocracy: In the 1820s, sugar was to the world economy what oil is to today’s. The fictitious Edwin Dunhill-Keyes, owner of thousands of plantation slaves on Caribbean islands, controlled a strong lobby in Parliament and had a close friend in the respected – albeit suspected – slave smuggler Whitaker Caldwell.

Africa’s Intramural Wars: Slavery was endemic in Africa before Westerners came, its victims sold to Arabs in the Barbary, to Muslims in the Levant, and to the Sultan in Istanbul’s Topkapi.

Interesting sidebar: Two Western women became immersed in Eastern culture during this period: Lady Hester Stanhope, niece to William Pitt; and Frenchwoman, Aimee du Buc du Rivery. Enamored of Eastern culture, both became – oddly enough – minor potentates in the Levant.

As one of the many examples in the novel of the melding of history with fiction, these ladies are the subject of a conversation.

Copyright 2009 George DiGuido. All rights reserved.