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Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival (2004)

by Dean King

Other authors: Fearn Cutler de Vicq (Designer), G. W. Ward (Maps)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,0032918,112 (4.01)42
Chronicles the hardships encountered by twelve American sailors who, in 1815, were shipwrecked on the coast of North Africa, captured, sold into slavery, and sent on a difficult odyssey through the perilous heart of the Sahara.
  1. 00
    The Pirate Coast by Richard Zacks (bookwoman247)
    bookwoman247: These are similar historical tales of Americans taken as slaves in Africa during the 19th Century and of survival.

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» See also 42 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Harrowing true survival story of the crew of the American brig Commerce who were shipwrecked off the western coast of Africa in 1815, held as slaves by nomadic tribes, and subjected to extreme deprivation in crossing the Zahara (Sahara) desert in a desperate attempt to reach safety. It is a tale of courage, tenacity, quick-thinking, adaptability, endurance, and persuasion. Dean King has blended accounts written separately by two survivors, along with his own research, and his trip retracing the path of the crew’s journey, to create a compelling narrative of survival in the face of tremendous adversity. The crew endured separation, enslavement, beatings, extremes of heat and cold in the desert, sandstorms, starvation, dehydration, and they were tested to their physical and mental limits.

I found this book well-plotted and engrossing. The writing is journalistic in style. One of my favorite parts is the bond of trust developed between two men of very different culture and language, and I thought the author did a great job depicting their characters. Content warnings include: consumption of bodily fluids, insects, (and worse), slaughter of animals, slavery, and brutality. The maps, images, list of terms, cast of characters, and footnotes are extremely helpful. Recommended to fans of maritime history, true adventure, and survival stories. ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Just amazing, this book will have you dropping your jaw at times upon reading some of the excerpts on life as a [white] slave in the early 19th century, in the Sahara. Compiled by drawing mostly on the written accounts of two of the survivors of the ship Commerce, and calling on other writings about shipwreck, and life in the Sahara, and his own travels through the this desert, King makes an ultimately very readable, engaging, and educational story.

Captain Riley of the Commerce faltered in his navigation of his ship from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands, and instead foundered on Cape Bojador, on the Ivory Coast of Africa. The ship was battered by the waves against the rocks, and whatever cargo they managed to pull up on shore was promptly robbed by Saharans. So the crew set about lowering the longboat and trying to keep it from breaking against the brig. They had some crazy idea that they could make their way to the Canary Islands in the longboat, 100 miles away to the west. They battled current, sleeplessness, and the water let in by holes made in the longboat, despite their care to keep it away from rocks. Fighting for days to row, and suffering from skin chafing, thirst and fatigue from rowing and bailing, they found themselves thrown up on a jagged coastline south of Cape Bojador. They fought their way onto the sand in collapse and were promptly seized by Saharans who made them their slaves. Their horror had only begun. ( )
  burritapal | Oct 23, 2022 |
This is the survival story of Captain James Riley and the men of The Commerce in the year 1815. The Commerce shipwrecked off the coast of Africa after leaving Gibraltar. Riley and his crew were stripped of their belongings then taken captive by a band of Nomads and held as slaves, beaten and starved for over 2 months. The author spares no words in describing the deplorable condition these men were in. Made to travel the harsh Sahara scorching days and freezing nights. Skin peeling from their bodies, as they were forced to walked nearly naked without sustenance to regain any strength.

Throughout the journey, Captain Riley did everything in his power to try to keep his men safe and together-unfortunately as they journey farther and farther many of his men are traded off to other nomads, incredibly for a blanket or an old camel. Captain RIley and one of the Nomads connect in a way that at first defies logic. As you read on, you see that this is how all humans should connect and exist-our beliefs held fast, yet acceptance that others and their beliefs should not be disregarded.

This book exemplifies, in so many ways, why I love Non-fiction.

[a:Dean King|13803|Dean King|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1367673472p2/13803.jpg]'s research came from 2 books published after some of the crew made it back to America He also joined the National Geographic Society sponsored expedition to retrace the steps of these men.

If you love a good survival story I highly recommend this one! ( )
  JBroda | Sep 24, 2021 |
Dnf'ing at the 50% mark. The story itself is really good but after sometime book feels too repetitive like Sahara desert. The same information is repeated without really moving the plot or the overall story. Enjoyed the first 50% of it at least. ( )
  madhukaraphatak | Aug 12, 2020 |
Really a 3.5. While it does get a little slow early on, it ultimately becomes a compelling true story. In fact so compelling that it is hard to understand how anyone survived. I also appreciate the short post-script where the results of this ordeal were talked about.

A bit of a slog at times, but still worth the read. ( )
  Skybalon | Mar 19, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dean Kingprimary authorall editionscalculated
de Vicq, Fearn CutlerDesignersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ward, G. W.Mapssecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Prichard, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The crew of the Commerce seem to have been designed to suffer themselves, that the world, through them, might learn.
--Archibald Robbins, A Journey Comprising an Account of the Loss of the Brig Commerce
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In his five crossings of the Sahara, Sidi Hamet had never seen worse conditions.
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Chronicles the hardships encountered by twelve American sailors who, in 1815, were shipwrecked on the coast of North Africa, captured, sold into slavery, and sent on a difficult odyssey through the perilous heart of the Sahara.

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