Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Review: The Salt Road by Jane Johnson

The Salt Road - Jane Johnson

I received my copy of The Salt Road as a Christmas gift from my father. I started reading the book in January and it has taken me until June to finish. It isn't a long read, however coupled with my growing pile of school work, finding the necessary time to dedicate to this delicious read proved difficult. I want to say this now incase you do not continue reading this review: BUY THIS BOOK.

Two lives are interwoven as Isabel and Mariata's experiences with the desert and its people are delved into in a way that will leave you seeing a part of yourself in their existance. I admired how both women 'escaped' their comfortable, albeit suffocating and restricted, life to experience something unknown and somewhat wild. At the beginning of the story I found myself most able to relate to Izzy's moderninity where Mariata represented a world I could not relate to. As the story progressed I found myself eager to get back to Mariata and her journey as I was able to forgot chronology and see the relevance in both narratives.

Apart from these two main characters, the desert itself proves to be a worthy contender for the most interesting character in the book. The desert represents a lot of things, however most importantly to me it is the catalyst for these women to shed their expectations and self control to be open to new experiences and to see further into themselves to what they are capable of. Mariata finds an inner strength which manifests physically as she attempts to cross the Sahara on her own. With many trials and tribulations, the desert forces her to acknowledge her lineage and use that as a means of perseverance. Isabel struggles to toss aside preconception and reluctance while ultimately discovering an unknown past. She must shed conformity to find her true self and potential.

While for much of the book these two women appear to exist mutually exclusive from one another, Johnson does a beautiful job of weaving the storylines to a climactic ending which was very unexpected (even for someone who can usually predict endings fairly accurately).

Ok, so Johnson does a simply wonderful job of describing the landscape and surroundings of every situation. Starting at the beginning with what I thought was a rather stark commentary of Isabel's life in Eurpoe is beautifully contrasted with the richness of the rest of the novel. Johnson provides a narrative that could leave you insisting you really were in a spice market or your finger tips did delight in the luxury of a wool woven carpet. I have never visited Morocco or the Sahara Desert, however I feel like when I do get the opportunity it will be like revisiting an old friend. If I was to only give one praise about this book it would be the wealth of descriptional detail. In the first chapter, I admit I felt it was overdone and cumbersome however as the book progressed it quickly became its greatest strength.

I cannot say much for Johnson's historical accuracy in respect to the Tourag people and nomad culture in the Sahara as I have very little previous knowlegde of these cultures. I can appreciate however that in contrary with many novelists, Johnson provides a bibliography in the back of the book directing to further reading. Also very helpful (and something I did not notice until the end) is a glossary which would have helped me greatly with unknown words and locations.

I am looking forward to reading Johnson's The Tenth Gift which predates The Salt Road.

Currently, I am engrosed in Gayle Forman's You Can't Get There From Here which chronicles a year's journey across much of the globe attempting to grasp an understanding of severl fringe subcultures.

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