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The Count of the Sahara: Historical fiction at its best Paperback – September 12, 2015
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Wayne Turmel is an internationally recognized writer, speaker and business professional. His books are uniquely funny, honest and practical. He is a former standup comic, car salesman and corporate trainer who lives in Chicago.
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Byron Kuhn was an American expatriate who styled himself as Count De Prorok. Apparently he did some serious archaeology in the early 1920’s on the ruins of Carthage in North Africa. But as Turmel’s book relates, the Count ran into problems as the leader of an expedition to Libya in 1925. He set out to discover the tomb of Tin Hanan, Legendary Mother of the Tuareg tribespeople. But DeProrok returned to the U.S. with his career challenged and his character vilified.
Looking back on a life such as this, how can we know the truth? Was DeProrok a legitimate scientist, a mere snake-oil salesman, or a real-life Indiana Jones?
The author has done his research. Turmel cites DeProrok’s own writings, particularly his account of that Sahara Expedition central to his claim to fame. But Turmel also gained access to the archives at Beloit College in Wisconsin, the academic sponsor of the excavations.
Turmel’s interesting narrative choices give the reader an expanded view of DeProrok’s character as well. The author alternates scenes from the Sahara with a timeline months later, depicting DeProrok on tour in the frigid American Midwest giving lectures of the expedition.
The Sahara scenes are written in the third person, shifting point of view from DeProrok himself to others who collaborated with him: the French military leader, the journalist, the representative from Beloit College. From this cast of characters we get a vivid sense of the dangers and difficulties of field work in the desert, and different assessments of how DeProrok handled the situations. We are also entertained by this story line and colorful characters such as the tall blue-robed rifle-toting Tuaregs and war-weary legionnaires.
For the U.S. timeline, Turmel gives us a first-person narrative from the point of view of Willy from Milwaukee, a big city kid who ends up as DeProrok’s “technical director” assisting him with the films and slide shows in lecture halls from Iowa to Chicago. This angle allows the reader to see the vulnerable side of the archaeologist, his worries and doubts. Willy also sheds light on DeProrok’s personal problems, his affection for his wife and children, and conflicts with his wealthy and antagonistic father-in-law.
Turmel keeps the suspense up by running the two timelines in parallel, so we don’t discover the truth of the Sahara Expedition until the end, when we also see the consequences to DeProrok’s career and family life. This clever plotting is just one of the ways the author demonstrates mastery of the material, along with intelligent use of research, colorful period detail, and excellent writing with warm and good-humored prose throughout.
I highly recommend the book.
Other reviewers have detailed the book, some well, and others not as insightful. I would suggest this: It is a story of faith in one self.
One story is told through the eyes of a young man who helps the Count as he travels the Midwest, raising money for his adventures. Suffering a stutter, stage fright, introverted and broke, this young hero faces a choice to either move beyond his inhibitions, or go back home to a dead-end life. One choice will lead to a life of misery. The other has no safety net. Succeed or fail, and in 1926 failure held a weight not easily dismissed.
The other story is told, more or less, by our hero the Count who, driven by pride, ego, gumption and adventure, creates a world for himself whose foundation is set in trust, with himself and others. But trust is a finicky thing and when it starts to shake, it will unmoor from everything it touches.
I equally enjoyed the nights in an Iowa winter and the days in the desert heat. The characters were fun to get to know, and the stories brought me to places of high adventure. A more critical look at this work would be that some of the characters were a bit more cardboard than I would have liked, such as the investigator, and it needed more legionaries. Can never have enough legionaries. But all that aside, this is a fun ride through rich locations filled with characters you'll enjoy reading about. Just make sure you have a little rye at the ready. You may get thirsty.
Most recent customer reviews
The characters are full of life and you'll love them.
I could stop reading.