‘City of Myths River of Dreams’ by James Marr

City of mythsfront-coverFollowing in the footsteps of the Victorian explorers, James Marr has something of the ‘chap’ about him. He knows the importance of a comprehensive list, an aperitif and how an Englishman should conduct himself in the face of an imbroglio.

The first couple of chapters may lead you to think that this book will reveal little but James’ disappointment with anything other than the availability of crisp cotton sheets and a stiff drink, but it soon blossoms into something altogether different. The raison d’être for the road-trip may have been to visit a music festival deep in the Mali desert, but by focussing much of the text on the City of Myths – Timbucktu, and the River of Dreams – The Niger, the reader is provided with a terrific education of West Africa.

There is regular reference to early explorers like Mungo Park, Richard Lander and Gordon Laing which provides welcome insight and context for the journey and even the contemporary situation in West Africa. We learn of the ongoing battle of self-determination in Western Sahara, the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in Mali, the local chiefs who grew fat on the spoils of slavery and the historical meddling of the European imperial powers.

Although Marr is widely travelled by motorcycle, this trip was undertaken with the company of his wife and some friends in a Toyota and loses nothing of its interest and value because of it. The text itself is engaging and well written and so much more than a collection of factoids held together by amusing anecdote.

If you have any intention of heading further south than Morocco, this is a recommended read to develop your background knowledge and ultimately your enjoyment of this fascinating and challenging region of a Continent that still commands intrigue and demands respect.

The book carries no images, but you can access some very good ones here.

Paddy Tyson

ISBN 978-1-78306-052-8 paperback

265pp including 2 pages of route maps

Published by Matador £8.99