“Footprints in the Desert” by Maha Akhtar

Footprints in the Desert: A Novel

(Author: Maha Akhtar) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

I didn’t hate this book. And I didn’t like it either. I barely felt anything about Footprints in the Desert, aside from mild annoyance at the most ridiculous moments.

The entire book is completely underwhelming, both because of the characters and because of the story. The thing begged the following questions: Why should I care about this?, What’s so special about it? and What sets it apart from other books? (The answers being: I shouldn’t. Nothing. Nothing.) Footprints in the Desert tells the story of people fighting a fight that neither they themselves, nor even the author believes in. The main character, Salah, is too obvious a pawn in the hands of Akhtar. You know in certain books when the characters seem to truly be alive. And then there are the books in which you just see the author’s hands moving the puppets and no one is the wiser. Salah is a weak and spineless little man who is drawn in a fight he doesn’t want to fight and yet all of a sudden he so wants to be a part of that he is leaving the woman of his dreams because of it. Controversy? Absolutely.

Aside from Salah, we have a whole bunch of characters, who are hard to feel sympathy for. They are all completely “whatever” and some of them are also completely interchangeable. I was getting the three main female characters mixed up all of the time. For one, they are all very beautiful, feminine and desirable. For the other, they all manage to find happy endings and love(and not once; some even more than twice), and they are also so brave, so feisty, that they manage to oppose the best of the Ottoman army. And speaking of, while all of the characters who are considered “good guys” only stay alive because of luck and not thanks to any great abilities that they have, at least as far as the author shows us, the Ottoman soldiers are complete imbeciles, who allow themselves to be beaten by a handful of women and a couple of unspectacular men.

(I should also put a note here that although the author continues to use the term “Turkish”, during the Ottoman empire “Turkish” was only used for the villagers and it became widespread only after the creation of the Turkish Republic.

Also in connection, the language used in the book as a whole is completely inappropriate. Party-crashing? Seriously? In WWI Egypt?)

The other thing which annoyed me with Footprints in the Desert is how it attempts to be a serious political novel and yet it’s actually a romantic adventure lacking any depth. Everything magically resolves, each problem that exist always disappears in the right moment, all of the characters are capable in doing everything – beyond rhyme, reason and logic. This is especially true about the love-stories. Example: The characters have a huge fight, he leaves her for something I think is entirely idiotic and he thinks so too, and yet he puts it above her in his list of priorities, which means that she has no value whatsoever. Then she gets hurt, also because of him. When he comes back, instead of being angry at him, she says the following: “I cannot believe how lucky I am to have a man like you in my life.” REALLY? 

I can admit, though, that the author’s style of description is something which I appreciated. She managed to capture the characters’ physical appearance in a way I could imagine them very well, for which I can give her some credit, even though it didn’t help me in any way to form an emotional bond with them.

There was one quote which I liked and I’m going to leave it here as an end. If the entire book was written in this spirit, it might have been so much better.

“…The Arabs are a political mosaic. We are tribesmen, loyal to the tribe or to our religion. We have a clan mentality and I think we always will.”

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