“Drawn Into Danger: Living on the Edge in the Sahara” is a memoir by Dave, a young Englishman who moves to Algeria in 1978 to teach English and escape his ordinary life. As he becomes immersed in the local culture, he explores his bisexuality and becomes involved in a dangerous quest for revenge with a friend. This decision leads him into a secret police operation with unexpected consequences that threaten his freedom. The book explores the complexities of personal identity, cultural differences, and the unforeseen consequences of our actions.
Sand has long been used to symbolise time, be it in an hourglass by our ancestors or in the womb of nature using it as a blanket to cover up the remnants of the past. This author takes a similar note by encompassing the reader’s mind’s eye into an hourglass and showing the life of the protagonist as it passes through like the grails of time.
With a flashback narrative as the main approach, the book invokes a reader’s curiosity and the forethought of the character, and by extension, the plot of the book has already been made known to the audience. As a clever trick, this follows the infamous psychological trick along the lines of ‘I know of something but I cannot tell you’ – a well-known and equally agonising phrase that everyone has fallen prey to at least once in our lives, have we not? Capturing the wit already, the plot proceeds to solidify the visual projectors and its sensory counterparts. Set in Algeria, and from a British-origin protagonist’s point of view, every detail of the Middle Eastern culture, architecture and history is narrowed down to voluble details. The pretty quips here and there about how diaphanous the male attire is or how publicly intrusive the concept of ‘hamaam’ is can be perceived as a humorous take.
This also speaks of a deeper metaphor on how the culture shocks, if not accepted with an open-mind, can create rifts of offences and misinterpretations on anyone’s behalf. The middle ground established by the author is quite fascinating to perceive as the protagonist portrays himself as a calm and collected man, in turn solidifying the reader’s disposition as well.
As a hindsight narrative, the book starts off with the protagonist in his 20s, the age of youth and exuberance of zeal. Like a frozen fizz drink, the youth is something that needs to be carefully unveiled to both oneself and the society as many a wise minds would say. A little shaking might rev up the effect and potential of the drink however, a complete toss and turn might result in an ultimate spill and mess of the drink and a complete waste of its contents as well. The description of the 20s in the book fall along a similar trail where the boundaries of excitement and exploration, which stretched to far may turn dangerous and desolate. Today, the world we are in makes it difficult to carry over the spirit and energy of the young minds well into adulthood without falling for the caprices of the turbulent world around them. Seeing the protagonist do this successfully initially serves as a motivation outburst into the plot guaranteeing an energetic storyline.
Culture shocks is one of the most refreshing nodes of the plot. The multitude of interpretations of simple gestures like shaking hands or eating without cutlery initially seems like a deplorable fallacy. But having accepted that change is the language of exploration, the author urges being ‘an Algerian while in Algeria’ quite craftily through the main lead. It is along this same period where the socialising norms and methods come into light which would leave readers around the world digressing. The mutual respect despite the personal afflictions of colonialism is well covered like a scarred wound on the Algeria land.
For those who have never experienced the desert, the book acts as a visual guide not only to see it in the mind’s eye, but also to feel the desert heat, hear the whooshing sand-ingrained winds and smell the dust in the air. The desert is also quite symbolic to the plotline of the story as, being lost in the desert can take one to their own sand tomb but the slightest mirage of an oasis may drudge a hopeless traveller further and further on. Lying on the edge of the Great Sahara Desert in Algeria, the town of Bou Saada, where the story mainly takes place conveys this symbolism adeptly.
In addition to that is the way the words capture the life and lustre of the town, its living and surrounding. This could draw anyone to plan a trip to Algeria truly to explore the vibe emitted by these descriptions. While noting this, the reader also comes to the realisation that the pretext of exploration, on which the book started might not have addressed the harsh truths later. This is a relatable factor to anyone who has re-established their life from the scratch in another country. While the surface infographic may have been dandy, one can never truly realise the challenges of a new livelihood environment until they try to truly set a foothold in the area. This shows among the challenges of the main lead where homesickness and the desire to prove himself in life start conflicting one another – a phase of life relatable to many today. It also points out the irony of however hard it may have been leaving the known home, it is harder to go back from your created home once settled.
Much akin to a bird out of its cage, socialising and fraternizing seems to have a very dim difference. This also shows a bout of character development where the main character grows both morally and mentally. The dips and draws of friendships is where the plot takes its sharpest turn. ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’ is what draws the protagonist along the plotline of behalf of a friend. However, this is precisely where the reader stops to think of the difference between revenge and justice. This difference gets harder to see when it has personal notations attached to it like loss and loved ones. Leading astray in such a case may seem very likely but is one ever truly ready to bear the repercussions, should it lead to turn out as an error in judgement? One can only guess. A sense of foreshadowing also falls upon the plot at this point leading one to think – if they only pull back in life and wait to refigure happenings of their lives from a different perspective, could intuition be their ultimate guide to redemption?
Philanthropists and philosophers around the world are known to speak that the ties drawn and defined in the twenties of one’s lifetime shape the rest of their future. The severe gravity of this statement is seen from this point on. Blurring of friendship lines, stakes on the very same, flight or fight responses, they are all indicators yet life changing factors upon their occurrences in the said friendship. The most convoluting decisions and choices follow when one invests themselves deep into a friendship. Betrayals hurt deep and communication becomes essential when in trouble together. The deepest takeaway from it all turns out to be the core duty of a friend that one might overlook when the emotions run high. It is simply to be there for them. Most imagine that support extends in the form of a proactive or a reactive response but to stand still in the background to their foreground merely to support them, is overlooked a lot. Fortunately for us, the male lead stakes his everything along these lines to turn into a thriller, espionage plot including political drama of the 1980s and its repercussions on the African continent.
Another refreshing element and albeit a tricky one to include into the time zone and location of the book would be the homosexuality and bisexuality of the characters. In the era of black and white, this touch of grey is stimulating to the plot, and the mind for one, fears the retribution of it. It is portrayed naturally and obliges one to think no different of it than what was deemed to ‘ordinary’ and ‘disgraceful’ in the said times of the twentieth century. The long way in retrospect that we see today of the LGBTQ+ community is a commendable albeit painful march of many decades and sacrifices which the book respectfully advocates for.
The plot henceforth turns into an intensive chessboard which leaves the reader’s mind boggled on which character plays as what pawn. The instances of not knowing whom to trust or which act counts as betrayal is painfully similar to the questions of the daily lives of many. This also however portrays that, that is simply what life is. Decisions, choices, and their consequences. The mere will to simply withstand these consequences instead of fighting them makes all the wrong ones withstand it and the right ones worth it. The secrecy and the mystery element, along with the other characters that suddenly reappear to bear the espionage plot tends to leave one a little more mystified than intended.
This does not, however, compromise on the viability of the content and maybe paints how much trouble can be too much trouble before one finally walks away. Again, fortunately for us, our protagonist seems to hit the wheel of realisation for the above question a little later to walk away. The culmination of this with an unimaginable spell of loss, misery and finally epiphanies of closure, signifies that grief is the only other unsurmountable force apart from love that can bring people closer and human tendency paves way for this by default.
Here is a desert adventure on a magic carpet of a hard cover, waiting to be unravelled!
DRAWN INTO DANGER: LIVING ON THE EDGE IN THE SAHARA – Book Available on Amazon