Stories of the Sahara
"Hypnotic . . . A record of one person's fierce refusal to follow a path laid down for her by the rest of the world." Paris Review Best Books of the Year
The 15-million copy bestselling travelogue-memoir from legendary Taiwanese author Sanmao, translated into English for the very first time.
Leafing through the pages of National Geographic as a young girl growing up in Taiwan, Sanmao became enchanted by the infinite and wonderous landscape of the Sahara. Years later, in 1974, she sets out for the Spanish desert territory of El Aaiún in hopes of becoming the first female explorer to cross the hauntingly beautiful expanse. Her boyfriend José would have to wait, or join her. He packs his things, leaves Madrid, and asks Sanmao to marry him.
As Sanmao settles in to married life alongside the indigenous people of the Western Sahara, she is confronted by a culture and desert lifestyle that both captivate and confound her. Drawn in by the mystery of such desolate lands but disappointed by the drawl of life as a perpetual outsider, Sanmao begins to wonder if the desert is what she imagined it to be, and if her insatiably curious heart can beat forever in just one place.
Stories of the Sahara is a breathtaking exploration of the adventures—and misadventures—of untamable wanderlust. Sanmao illuminates the joys of fearless independence and the pains of yearning for elsewhere, culminating in a stunning mosaic of love and loneliness in a deeply human search for meaning and contentment.
Praise for Stories of the Sahara
"A hypnotic meditation on love and loneliness in a foreign place. Writing with frankness and vulnerability, Sanmao’s constant questioning of her insecurities and flaws is remarkably human, and nothing remains beyond the boundaries of her probing eye . . . Mike Fu’s gorgeous translation brings to live Sanmao’s evocative descriptions of the Sahrawi communities in which she lives, along with her wit and her gift for capturing life’s absurdities. Stories of the Sahara is a record of one person’s fierce refusal to follow a path laid down for her by the rest of the world, but it is also a celebration of the complexities of being an outsider, and ultimately, an ode to freedom." - The Paris Review, Best Books of the Year
"Stories of the Sahara has endured for generations of young Taiwanese and Chinese women yearning for independence from conservative social norms . . . Her prose, which oscillates between memoir and fiction, has a laconic elegance that echoes the Beat poets. It can also be breezy, a remarkable quality at a time when her homeland, Taiwan, was under martial law." - The New York Times
"Marvelous . . . Sanmao is a meticulous observer and affecting raconteur. Her voice speaks from the page, as if written yesterday rather than almost 50 years ago—an effect, it must be admitted, which might in part be an artifact of the earnest translation by Mike Fu . . . If any work could be described as having been lovingly translated, it is this one." - Asian Review of Books
"Available in English for the first time, these semiautobiographical stories by a cherished Taiwanese writer . . . weave the quotidian and the historical into a single narrative: the wedding of a child bride; legends of evil spirits, heard while camping at night; rising hostility to both Spanish rule and the looming influence of Morocco." - The New Yorker
"Sanmao’s] delightful travelogues feel like fables, depicting both the humdrum realities of desert living—the goats that keep falling through the roof of her house, the quirks of the native Sahrawis she and her husband, José, reside with—and the high adventure of escaping quicksand, seeing UFOs, and getting ill perhaps from a possibly cursed necklace." - The Atlantic
"Stories of the Sahara mark[s] the beginning of Sanmao’s glorious, prodigious literary career … Beyond her infectious energy, Sanmao reveals keen insight, astute self-awareness, and the rare glimpses of unsettled loneliness." - Christian Science Monitor
"[Sanmao’s life] was a blueprint for how legends are born . . . She was adventurous and a home-body, brave and insecure, funny and serious." - PopFam
"A role model far ahead of her time . . . Now, mainland-born and Taiwanese-raised Sanmao is taking her rightful place in the pantheon of female travel writers with the English-language publication of Stories of the Sahara . . . Her confessional style, which can be painfully honest but is always self-aware and shot through with humour, fits perfectly in the age of #MeToo, despite the book being written five decades earlier . . . Her candidness about her marriage and life, along with her love of challenging convention, explains why Sanmao has been a heroine for Chinese women . . . Sanmao deserves all the praise, even if it has been a long time coming" - David Eimer, South China Morning Post
"[Stories of the Sahara] revives the spirit of this international hero, and reminds us why [Sanmao] still symbolizes strength and adventure across the world." - Character Media
"Ground-breaking . . . Sanmao wrote breezily but she captured the complexities of ‘learning the art of living here’ . . . A compelling tale of someone who was enraptured but uneasy, and Sanmao’s pluck is admirable" - Geographical
"Brilliantly translated." - India Today
"Riveting reissue aged like a good wine . . . A valuable record" - Irish Times
"An enduring cultural icon and figure of quixotic fascination . . . Every story conveys Sanmao's infectious capacity for wonder" - Sharlene Teo, author of 'Ponti'
"Sanmao’s vivid descriptions of Sahara life, with its assortment of local personalities and unexpected twists, make an engaging read, but an undeniable part of the book’s enduring appeal is Sanmao herself. Stories of the Sahara offers a glimpse into not only an underreported time and place, but also the making of a cultural icon." - Columbia University Weatherhead East Asian Institute
"Sanmao, the nomadic Taiwanese writer, storms her way into the English language with the travelogue that defined her restlessness and raw talent for narrative: Stories of the Sahara, now appearing via the dedicated and sensitive translation of Mike Fu." - Asymptote Journal
"As a Chinese woman born in 1943, Sanmao was a pioneering global citizen. These 20 essays about living in one of the harshest areas of the world in the 1970s are testimony to her audacity and courage." - Christian Science Monitor