Blue Desert tells the story of Alice George, a young woman who is abducted after a car accident and becomes a prisoner of some Tuareg tribesmen. She is safe and protected and falls into the rhythms of the desert and into love with Abu, the leader of the Tuareg tribesmen.
The story has two narratives. There is the past when young Alice lives among the Tuareg during World War I. In the present, she is an elderly woman, married to an important government minister, and an artist. When she receives a telegram telling her that Abu has died and her progeny will be arriving, she has a week to recall her past and tell her husband.
She’s not much of a communicator.
Blue Desert is well-written and has a beautiful and powerful sense of place. You can feel the heat, the scorching sun, and the harsh winds. In England, you can feel the cool, damp, moist air. There is also the contrast between how free Alice feels in the desert and how constrained she feels at home and in London. Because it is well-written, I perhaps rate it higher than it deserves since this is really just a more literary, highly-polished tired tropes including “Abduction Is Love” and “Victim Falls for Rapist.” These are not spoilers, we learn Abu was her lover in the first chapter.
My issue is that this is presented as a romantic relationship, that he is in love with her and waits for her to turn to him. However, she is also his only safety, protecting her from other men and the decidedly sketchy Englishmen they encounter. When she does not ask for their help, Abu interprets that as her choice to stay with him. Nah, he was safety and yes, she falls in love with him, but isn’t that what happens when you have no choice? She was still a child. It was rape and this book romanticized it. When I wonder why women are always defending sexual predators, I think of how common it is that rape is presented as romance in romance and literature rather than violent acts of asserting power. It made me feel angry with myself for liking the writing.