If I was given the opportunity to go around a bookshop and select the book whose cover most said “this book is probably not for you” I might have come up with something like this. Beige and old-fashioned looking, with hints of the desert, a 1920/30s photo of a woman and a more off-putting decidedly 80’s looking photo of two young women certainly didn’t excite, but, luckily I had seen this book listed in a selection of must-read books and on this occasion I am very glad I did not judge the book by the cover because I would have missed out as I was thoroughly entertained by this. There is no doubt that it is aimed at a female readership but it did draw me in.
Two cousins are asked to scatter their recently-deceased great aunt’s ashes. The will stipulates Mali but the cousins do not know why. The girls, one a romantic adventurer, the other a cynical teacher recently dumped by her boyfriend head off for the desert. To reach their destination they will need to cross the desert on camel accompanied by representatives of the Tuareg people. It all becomes rather charming. Challis uses three narrative threads, the girls with their differing viewpoints and a friend of the aunt’s who knows but does not reveal the reasons for the last wishes. Challis has done extremely well in exploring the differences between the Brits and the Tuaregs. It all seems authentic and respectful and actually left me with quite a bit of a rosy glow.