In 1926 Beau Sabreur foresaw Islamic State

Some novels deserve to be read despite all the author’s efforts to render them unreadable.  Beau Sabreur falls into that category.

Half of P. C. Wren’s Beau Sabreur is the fictional memoir of Major Henri de Beaujolais; the other half tells basically the same events from the perspective of two French Foreign Legion deserters.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Beau Sabreur by Percival Christopher Wren

Grosset & Dunlap, 1925, 1926. 1926 bestseller #5. My grade: C+.

Henri’s uncle, who heads France’s war ministry, plans to build a French African empire.

He wants his nephew to be his tool.

Henri agrees.

He volunteers for military service, enters cavalry training, and in due course Henri is posted to Africa where he becomes a secret agent.

Henri receives orders from his uncle to negotiate a federation of tribal leaders that will align with France against a Islamic caliphate.

As jihadists strike Zaguig, Henri and his men smuggled two white women out with them.

Henri’s men are killed.

He and the women are captured by Arabs who want the women for their wives.

Henri wants Mary Vanbrugh for his wife, but does he love her more than he loves his county?

The romance is predictable and silly, but the split perspective actually ruins the novel.

Beau Sabreur is worth reading today only for its anticipation of 21st century jihaddists and the emergence of Africa as a economic force.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Tribe That Lost Its Head gives faces to headlines

As The Tribe That Lost Its Head opens, Oxford-educated Dinamaula Maula, 22, is returning home to become chief of his people on the British protectorate of Pharamaul, 600 miles west of South Africa.

From that beginning, Nicholas Monsarrat weaves a complex plot about complex people trying to govern a country moving from colonialism to independence.

The Tribe That Lost Its Head by Nicholas Monsarrat

William Sloane, 1956.  598 pp. 1956 bestseller #8. My grade: A.

Front dust jacket of has white lettering on wood-grain backgroundThe Maula are, for the most part, simple people: herdsmen, fishermen, domestic servants.

The British officials in Paramaul are dedicated civil servants on good terms with the Maula population.

Neither group expects or wants sudden change.

Before the plane lands, Dinamaula’s remarks to a journalist unwittingly set the country up for savage, black-white confrontation.

Under the press of fatigue, self-pity, the goading of the gutter press, and the merciless African heat, leaders on both sides flub crucial opportunities to maintain peace.

Monsarrat’s characters come alive in a few precise words: “a human windsock,” “a professional sore thumb.”

The plot includes political intrigue, romance, social comedy, and military campaigns.

Underneath all that is an appreciation for the challenges of governing an African nation in the 20th century.

As news from Somalia, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic stream across our TVs and tablets, The Tribe That Lost Its Head is as pertinent as it was upon publication in 1956.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni