Thursday, March 15, 2012

Desert Drama: The Tragedy of the Korosko

Book:Desert Drama: The Tragedy of the Korosko
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Edition: ePub, from
Read:  March 2012
181 pages
Rated: 3 1/2 out of 5

An assortment of nationalities are on a cruise boat going up the Nile River in Egypt while England still retains control of that country in the 1890's. There are a couple Americans women, a couple of Irish descent, some Englishmen, including a retired colonel who served in India, and a Frenchmen. There had been unrest from the Dervish population from Somalian who are a sect of Muslims. But the unrest has been put down and things appear peaceful.

This party goes out on a trip to some ruins when a band of the Dervish soldiers capture them. The story tells of trip across the desert on camel back and the agonies of having to choose between converting to Islam and subsequently being sold into slavery, or being put to death. Of course, there is a rescue attempt.

In the second chapter, Doyle has a discussion between an American and a Frenchman about why is Britain in Egypt. It is the Frenchman's opinion it is just to extract wealth from Egypt and to exert power. A few minutes later, a Brit wonders why England is still in Egypt since it is only a drain on Britain. Let the other countries defend Egypt. But then a third makes Doyle's case for keeping in Egypt:  it is because it is right to do so, even if it is unpopular or drain on a country's resources. (27). Three thoughts cross my mind:
  • First, what makes a nation great? It is not merely the accumalation of property, like a real-life Risk game. But it is what a nation does that makes it great. A great nation will stand up and defend those nations who are weak, to allow themselves to grow. It will stand up for rightness.
  • That leads to the second thought. A nation must have the moral direction to understand what is right and to want to proper gate it.
  • Lastly, do we as Americans have the moral compass to be a great nation? Do we know what is right? Or are we only millions of jabbering voices without understanding. I think at one time we knew what was right. There was a time in our nations history when we discovered the people in control had a shroud of morals, but not the flesh to go with it. Rather than repudiate them, we decided that we would not be lead astray again, so we will not be lead when a leader does come along with morals. Consequently, we wander without leading and morals.
Those are the ruins, solitary, unseen, unchanging through the centuries, which appeal to one's imagination. But when I present a check at the door, and go in as if it were Barnum's show, all the subtle feeling of romance goes right out of it. There seems to be a theme in many of my readings, which Doyle is picking up on. As we make places more accessible, we lose how to look on something. By making it easy to go to the ocean, it loses its power to heal; by making a road to the mountains, serenity disappears; by being shown art or remains, we no longer are in awe of them. I am not going Edward Abbey, but there should be a place in each of our lives where we can have a struggle to get to, making it special to us.

The Colonel is a typical very starchy Brit with much pride and even more honor. When it comes to ask an Egyptian for advice, it takes a lot to break him down to ask. I do not think Doyle meant this as a critique on the British, but it does show how our strengths can be our biggest weakness at times.

his Indian service had left him with a curried-prawn temper, which had had an extra touch of cayenne added to it by his recent experiences.”(115) nothing particular thought provoking, I just like this description of the Colonel's temper.

Doyle can create a bit of understated humor as well. The Colonel, during ordeal, aged considerably. His usual robust appearance, lagged. Overnight his hair turned from black to gray. But at the end, Doyle talks about how anymore the Colonel would now always tuck a little black bottle in his coat when they were traveling.

   Even though this is Arthur Conan Doyle, this is not Sherlock Holmes and Scotland Yard. It is an entertaining book about tourists in 1890 or so Egypt who get captured by insurgents. It is written right in the middle of the Sherlock Holmes-Doyle did write several novels and short stories other than the master crime solver ones. It is fairly short, without mystery. Probably at the time, it was of interest to those in England because of circumstances in Egypt.

Is it worth a read today? Yes, but not a must read, but an interesting one from a good writer. One warning: a lot of language acceptable in 1890's, particularly concerning races and religions may be offensive to those reading it today. On the other hand, Doyle's descriptions will be reticent of some of the events in this day and age.


New Words:
  • dragoman(14): a professional interpreter.
  • emeute(20): A seditious tumult; an outbreak.
  • Dervishes: someone treading a Sufi Muslim ascetic path or "Tariqah", known for their extreme poverty and austerity. The Dervish State was an early 20th-century Somali Sunni Islamic state that was established by Muhammad Abdullah Hassan ("Mad Mullah"), a religious leader who gathered Somali soldiers from across the Horn of Africa and united them into a loyal army known as the Dervishes.
  • reductio ad absurdum(25): "reduction to absurdity; a common form of argument which seeks to demonstrate that a statement is true by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its denial, or in turn to demonstrate that a statement is false by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its acceptance.
  • piastres(31): a fractional monetary unit of Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria worth one hundredth of a pound; formerly also used in the Sudan
  • hoopoes(42): a colourful bird found across Afro-Eurasia, notable for its distinctive "crown" of feathers.
  • doora(67): In Irish the word Dúr means "water", and Dúire means "of water", so the name means the parish of the water or bog.
  • jibbehs(68): 
  • cummerbund(72): a broad waist sash, usually pleated, which is often worn with single-breasted dinner jackets (or tuxedos). The cummerbund was first adopted by British military officers in colonial India as an alternative to a waistcoat, and later spread to civilian use
  • reis(74): head, chief, leader
  • tibbin(79): 
  • Baedeker(114): German publisher, notably of guidebooks for travelers; any of the series of guidebooks for travelers issued by the him or his successors; anyguidebook, pamphlet, or the like, containing information useful to travelers:
  • anodyne(165): not likely to provoke dissent or offense; inoffensive, often deliberately so. (Or a painkilling drug)
  • khor(167): watercourse, ravine
  • carmine(180): A purplish-red pigment, made from dye obtained from the cochineal beetle; carminic acid or any of its derivatives

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: The public may possibly wonder why it is that they have never heard in the papers of the fate of the passengers of the Korosko.
  • Last Line: “You have," said he, and their hands met under the shadow of the table”.
  •  There is no iconoclast in the world like an extreme Mohammedan. Pg 26
  • A man or a nation is not here upon this earth merely to do what is pleasant and profitable. It is often called upon to carry out what is unpleasant and unprofitable; but if it is obviously right, it is mere shirking not to undertake it. Pg 27
  • I prefer the ruins that I have not seen to those which I have. Pg 42
  • anything is better than stagnation. Pg 99
  • one-ideaed man is only one remove from a dead man. Pg 99
  • Misfortune brings the human spirit to a rare height, but the pendulum still swings. Pg 129


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