Monday, March 18, 2013

The Salt Road by Jane Johnson

In The Salt Road, Isabelle (Izzy) Treslove-Fawcett has inherited an amulet, along with a mysterious note, from her father. It leads her on a journey to Morocco to find the amulet's origin and solve the mystery that her father eluded to in the note. Once there, she meets an antiques trader, Taïb, learns about the history of the Tuareg people and uncovers the amulet's amazing past.

I had read Johnson's other book, The Tenth Gift and really enjoyed it, so I was really excited when I first heard about this one. However, this one took me a couple of tries before I got into it. The first time I got about 1/4 of the way through before I lost interest. The second time I persevered even though my interest waned periodically. All of that left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I loved the history in this story. Johnson gave vivid, gorgeous details about the area, the history and the people. That was enlightening and fantastic! However, the story didn't move along fast enough for me and a few of the details were bothersome.

Like The Tenth Gift, this book is set in Morocco, a beautiful area with a rich history. The story involved and highlighted a injustice that plagues the Tuareg people. While it was sad, yet fascinating, I felt that Johnson came on a little too strong at times. It bordered on preachy.

The story is told using two different storylines, one in the present featuring ; Izzy and Taïb; the other Mariata and Amastan in the past. This format was pretty good fit for the story. However, other than their common location, I had a hard time seeing any connections between the two stories. Eventually, a connection becomes apparent, but it's really late in the book and it's fairly simple. Maybe I read too many mysteries, because I was expecting a more complicated link.

I was also confused about time frame for the storyline set in the past. Because I didn't know about the Tuareg people and their "traditionally nomadic pastoralist lifestyle", I had assumed that those crossing the desert on foot (for days and days and days) or using camels as their main mode of transportation had done it a very long time ago. I was thinking a century or so ago. Because of this assumption, parts of the story didn't seem to fit and confused the hell out of me. Now that I've finished the book, it makes more sense, but it didn't while I was reading.

A couple of other things about the story bothered me. Once Izzy became involved with Taïb, she totally lost contact with her travelling/climbing partner, Eve. Of course, at times she couldn't contact her, but there were times that it seemed like she forgot about her entirely. To me, that seemed weird, inconsiderate, and not believable. Also, Izzy had the feeling that she didn't belong in her parents world, but once she got to Morocco, everything started to feel right. I can understand that, however, Johnson's description of it felt a little wishy-washy and too romanticized for my tastes.

The book contained some new-to-me words. I didn't bother listing the ones that were defined in the glossary. Here's a sampling: friable (page 1): crumbly
louche (page 7): disreputable
inimical (page 10): adverse
susurrus (page 26): whisper
palanquin (page 52): seat carried on poles
acrostics (page 73): written lines with certain letters forming a new word
alacrity (page 75): swiftness
col (page 81): low point of mountain ridge
lugubrious (page 88): sad
abseil (page 106): rappel (descend by rope)
sigil (page 159): seal or signet
suffusing (page 174): permeating
obdurate (page 317): stubborn

The glossary at the back of the book was nice to have, but I didn't know it was there until well after I started the book. Once I found it, I referred to it often. I love learning new words, but having to look up so many annoyed me a little.

Johnson also included a list of "sources and bibliography" as well as other information which inspired this book. It's pretty interesting. It was obvious that she'd done a tremendous amount of research.

I've also read Johnson's The Tenth Gift (my review) and really enjoyed it.

Even though I had a few problems with the story, I'd still recommend this book to others, who are looking for a story set in that part of the world.

For more information about this book, please visit the Random House website.

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Jane Johnson's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Random House for this review copy.

The Salt Road by Jane Johnson, Doubleday Canada (Random House), ©2010. ISBN 9780385669979(Hardcover), 386p.

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