Essay on Arabian Sands:
Arabian Sands is a book about the five unforgettable years spent by an eccentric English traveler, Wilfred Thesiger, in the southern Arabian Peninsula. This book is a gem for a reader who wants to get inside the world of ancient Islamic culture. It particularly deals with the life of Yamani Bedouins that are a small fraction of the Arabs. Historically, Bedouins have been ostracized, mistrusted and often hated by the Arabs of the Middle East who tend to be wealthier and settled. What is peculiar about Arabian Sands is that it describes a world that no longer exists. With the development of technology the oil wells spread in the desert and the Bedouins were forced out to modern towns. With the appearance of the oil industry the Bedouin world was ruined and this book is the last evidence of this stirring and vivid world. It is particularly valuable to us because not only it was written in the last moment of the existing of the old world but also because it is the only existing careful account of Beduin culture and people.
In my paper I would like to describe the essence of this wonderful book as well as show its importance for our generation and generations to come. To begin with, I would like to look at the plot of the book closer. In the book the author describes the five great but complicated years he spent in the desert. The part of the desert the book touches the most is the southern desert the «Empty Quarter».
The way Thesiger described the desert is unusual indeed. While for most of the people desert represents death and devastation, for Thesiger it is the most beautiful place on Earth. Even when he is exhausted, hungry and thirsty, the sight of the send gives him “great pleasure.” He is touched by the grains that he describes as follows: “It is the large grains which give the prevailing hue to the landscape. Disturb the surface of the sand and underlying paleness is immediately revealed. It is this blending of two colors which gives such depth and richness to the sands: Gold with silver, orange with cream, brick-red with white, burnt-brown with pink, yellow with grey, they have an infinite variety of shades and colors.”(Thesiger)From the way he writes about the desert it can be seen how much it means to him and how much he treasures his cherished experience.
However, Thesiger does not only admire the desert, he admires the Bedouin people themselves. This admiration and deep respect can be seen from the way he talks about them, describes them and their customs. Thesiger shows the reader that even though Bedouins are the people who considered it a duty to kill a Christian infidel, they are also emotional, honest, descent and honorable. Thesiger’s images of his friends are kindly sympathetic. Yet, he is not at all being demonstrative and his admiration of and love for them “pours” from every page. He loved, admired, respected and was humbled by people who lived hard lives in the unbearable conditions. Even though following barbarian laws, Bedouins were imperturbably cheerful, hospitable, munificent, self-reliant, loyal and dignified people. And as we can see from the book, having spent five years around Bedouins Thesiger realized that that he could much better fit in with them than with the civilized effete snobs.
The author understands that without his companions he would never have managed to cross the Empty Quarter. He mentions in the book that “If I traveled here alone, the weight of this vast solitude would crush me utterly.” (Thesiger) The book is truly sincere and we can tell that the author’s devotion to Bedouins and the desert is genuine. He himself confessed afterwards that the places he travelled to after Arabia did not move him as Arabia did. In the book he described the land of Arabia as follows: “In the deserts of Arabia there is no rhythm of the seasons, no rise and fall of sap, but empty wastes where only the changing temperature marks the passage of the years. It is a bitter, desiccated land which knows nothing of gentleness or ease.” (Thesiger)However, this land was truly and profoundly loved by him and made a deep mark in the traveler’s heart.
There are several opinions about this book. Nevertheless most of them are positive because the book is surely brilliant. Nobody can deny that it is very hard to find a truer book to describe the Arabic mentality in the proper and correct way. Still some may think that the author from time to time confuses Islamic tradition with Arabic tribal traditions. For example, in one paragraph, the author describes the wedding ceremony as being an entirely Arab process. Yet, in reality it is an Islamic process shared by every Muslim all over the world. Some argue that the action in the book is not going fast enough and the description of the scenery is lengthy. But the point that the book is bright and is a significant contribution to the literary world simply cannot be disputed.
The Arabian Sands is often compared to the famous movie “Lawrence of the Arabia” because of the similar topics the movie and the book deal with. In Lawrence of the Arabia a young man is also travelling around the desert, still his story is different. Being in the desert he organizes a guerrilla army to attack Turks. Finally, he led his army northward and helped the British destroy the Ottoman Empire. The main difference in the character of Lawrence in the movie and the author in the book is the way the desert itself and the people are related. As I have explained already above, the book gives a more emotional and warm idea of what Arabia and Bedouins are, while in the movie the Bedouins are seen as the fighting force and not as an amazing nation.
Arabian Sands is definitely a classic of the travelling genre. It is also a passionate ode to the Bedouin life style and culture which is sadly almost vanished. Besides being a wonderful book, as it was reviewed, Arabian Sands is an important reading for anyone who wants to understand the culture and history of the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa.
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