The name of Tahir Shah has been mentioned on these pages on a number of occasions. I have been reading his works for some years, with increasing admiration. He features on my list of favourite authors, and the latest work, Timbuctoo, on my reads of the current year. Rather than have me sound like some sort of authorial groupie, you might want to have a look at Tahir’s website to get a real flavour of his work over the years. As well as baing a writer of pretty unique style and skill, he also manages to get into the odd scrape or two.
But it is his latest work that has me captivated right now. The book itself is a mighty tome, published by himself in the style of the period in which it is set. It was designed by his wife Rachana. Her work is known to many of his readers for she it was who masterminded the work on that house in Casablanca; the one that gave the inspiration for his scribblings about the djinns and his unique storytelling behind The Caliph’s House and In Arabian Nights.
As a physical book it is nothing short of majestic. But the tale it tells is another thing all together, and best summarised by the man himself. We are in Regency London, society, Byron et al. Napoleon is on his way to St Helena, but war continues to be waged, now with America. There is an unseemly race to locate the mysterious city in the desert, to relieve it of its riches; and for the infidels to be taught a lesson. And an illiterate American escapes from slavery, where he found himself after a shipwreck, at the hands of the Moors, then the Touareg, having been in that city, and survived.
The book has rested on the shelf for some weeks, waiting for the right moment. That has now arrived and it has found itself on the bedside table, the silk marker already deep into the tale. The maps are exquisite.
And there’s an accompanying website. For this is more than just a book that Shah has created. We have available digital images of the original published narrative of Robert Adams, and so much more. And there’s treasures; and clues; a mystery to solve. Hidden across the globe, at four locations covering Europe, Africa and Australia, are four life size bronze sculptured heads. There are clues in the book, and on the website. Crack one of the four codes hidden in the novel and enter it via the website, and get a series of more codes. Eventually you could find yourself with shovel in hand digging.
I think I’ve a project on hand here. But first of all I’m going to thoroughly enjoy every word on every page. And on all those lists of things to achieve before shuffling off, I’d suggest that opening the covers of a Tahir Shah book is a must. He’ll open so many new worlds, and you’ll realise that a bookshelf is incomplete some of the magic of Tahir Shah.
And he’s going to be in Wigtown in a few weeks time……….