The Sahel is a region mostly overlooked by Americans. While this lower expanse of the Sahara Desert contains such legendary cities as Timbuktu and Dakar, it is astonishingly hot, dry, and poor, and most of its inhabitants are Muslim. Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel is Jeffrey Tayler's narrative of a months-long trip alone across the Sahel, from N’Djamena, Chad, to Dakar, Senegal. As the subtitle implies, this journey is not for the casual tourist. There are few paved roads or functioning transportation systems, bribery and bargaining are expected, and many Sahelians distrust or fear Americans. Tayler's path is made smoother by his fluency in Arabic and French, and by the kindness and hospitality he finds in nearly every city he visits.
Unlike many travel writers, Tayler is more than an insightful reporter. Frequently, he finds himself arguing with his hosts, trying to persuade them to accept his ideas about world politics, religion, or female circumcision. As an American traveling through Arab lands in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and as a nonreligious man in countries where Muslim-Christian ideologies dictate much of daily life, Tayler engages in stimulating discussions with imams, barkeepers, merchants, guides, and drivers.
Angry Wind is a fascinating and rare glimpse into a part of the world that is different in almost every way from the United States. Tayler is adept at capturing a scene, whether it be Tuareg youths dancing in the desert by moonlight, or the inefficiency of petty bureaucrats, or men gathered to argue at the local café. Tying the narrative together is the Harmattan, the dry easterly wind that blows across the Sahara throughout Tayler's exhausting and appealing journey.