The life of Isabelle Eberhardt is one to delve into. The illegitimate daughter of a Russian nihilist who dressed her as a man and forbade her contact with society, she eventually traveled to North Africa in 1897 at the age of twenty. There she got involved with a sufi sect, converted to Islam and wrote. The short stories in this collection are only a small sampling of what she had to offer the world.
The stories are very short, almost impressionistic, detailing life in North Africa (mostly Algeria). Desert lives sit along side their colonizers, these often sad tales offer a glimpse into the ‘invisible’ lives of those living under the colonial yoke of France. Vagabonds, unrequited love, familial rifts, beautiful and lyrical portraits of the desert landscape, they all combine for concise, almost dreamlike explorations not only into these lives but the interior journey which Isabelle Eberhardt had taken.
At only 88 pages, this book is a quick read (I read it in two sittings) and the excellent introduction by Paul Bowles (author of the brilliant ‘The Sheltering Sky’) is also a wonderful edition. Definitely recommended, especially for those who are interested in the history and culture of North Africa at the turn of the century.