10.8.13

THE MISTRESS OF ABHA, by William Newton

The Romans called the Tihama, a coastal area in present-day Saudi Arabia, Arabia Felix (happy Arabia or good Arabia...as opposed to desert Arabia). This story takes place in the Tihama, much in the mountaintop city of Abha, where an English officer named Willoughby is attached to Lawrence of Arabia's force and subsequently "goes native" to become part of the region's history. Decades later in 1930, his son Ivor Willoughby, newly graduated from Oxford with a degree in Arabic languages, goes in search of his father. But he can't find him, nor can he find anyone who will even admit the man - called Ulloby by the
Arabs - existed. If you enjoy books that have a journey inside them - you read for the journey, not for thrills and chills or blood (there's a fair amount of that, by the way, battles being bloody by nature), Ivor's lengthy and fascinating search, and the milieu in which he searches, the people he encounters and the tales that are told to him, will keep you entertained right until the final surprising, bittersweet pages. It's a 5+! Great for a book group.
Author Newton, a retired physician, will regrettably write no more; he died in 2010. He wrote only one other book, the prizewinning The Two Pound Tram which I can hardly wait to get my hands on.

Historical note:  At the turn of the 19th century, little more than one hundred years ago, Abdulaziz ibn Saud and forty loyal followers began to form the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The story of this larger-than-life warrior (never defeated in battle) and the religion he espoused (Wahhabism, a strict version of Islam) is today overshadowed by present events and situations. Abdulaziz signed the first oil exploration agreement with foreigners and later deeply regretted what it did to his nation.