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The Tragedy of the Korosko

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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    I have read that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) wrote Sherlock Holmes mysteries for money and historical novels and novels dealing with the paranormal for love. In fact, at one point he actually killed off Holmes so he could spend his time on other writings, but the public outcry was too fierce, so he brought him back. He wrote a lot of great books! I am glad that so many of his non-Sherlock novels are also readily available as eBooks now. Project Gutenberg, as of this writing, has 131 entries under his name, in many different genres. Incidentally, there is always that question about his name. Technically, his last name was Doyle. He godfather's name was Michael Conan. After Arthur graduated from high school, he began using Conan as part of his surname, rather than given name. He was knighted as Doyle, but his second wife was known as Jean Conan Doyle.
    The Tragedy of the Korosko was written in 1898, and it is an historical novel about the Mahdist War in Northern Africa. According to Wikipedia, it was a British colonial war "fought between the Mahdist Sudanese of the religious leader Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah . . . and the forces of the Khedivate of Egypt, and later the forces of Britain." The British had their noses in everybody's business, didn't they? Kinda like we do now. The war lasted 18 years. The 1966 movie, Khartoum, was about this war.
    In any case, I discovered this novel shortly after I had created my Egypt Index Page, because I realized I had no fiction set in Egypt. I have since found lots, which will be gradually coming along to these pages, but this was the first, and it is a great story! It isn't that long, but I found myself staying up past my bedtime because I couldn't set it down. I finished it the next morning.
    The Korosko is a "turtle-bottomed, round-bowed stern-wheeler" which begins its journey down the Nile on February 13, 1895, from Shellal, bound to Wady Halfa, Egypt. On it are various passengers, from England, America, a mother, child and nurse from Florence, a couple from Dublin, and one man from Paris. They are on a sight-seeing expedition, and have one more stop to make. The night before, as everyone is on deck after dinner, Mansoor, the dragoman announces the itinerary for the morrow, which includes a ride five miles into the desert to see the famous pulpit rock of Abousir, just on the edge of civilization, before the country of the "Dervishes." And while this title is typically given to Sufi Muslims who live in extreme poverty as a path toward God, the term was also used for the cruel and barbarian soldiers in Sudan during the Mahdist War.
    After Mansoor's announcement, Fardet, the Frenchman and Headingly, an American, are discussing the possibility of meeting up with Dervishes, and Fardet informs him that they do not exist. In fact, Fardet disputes many of the accepted facts about the British involvement in the war, and is especially cynical about the way England has wormed her way into other countries' business. After Headingly departs from Fardet, he joins two Brits, Colonel Cochrane Cochrane, who was involved in the war, and Cecil Brown, and they inform him that the Dervishes could theoretically attack them, but that things are much calmer now than a year ago. Still, they aren't completely convinced that all is safe.
    The next day, the little party sets out on donkeys. Mrs. Belmont, the Irish wife stays on board with the widow and her child, but the rest, including Miss Sadie Adams and her elderly, but spritely aunt are out for adventure. As they reach the summit of the hill to observe the pulpit rock, the worst of the worst happens. A small army of Dervishes on camels has cut them off. They are taken prisoner, and, not being Muslim, are destined for certain death, or at the very least, slavery.
    Headingly is killed during the initial attack, and the rotund minister from Birmingham is wounded, later left to die in the desert. They are all mounted on camels to begin their long and miserable trek across the desert in what becomes an opportunity for each to discover an inner strength they had no idea they possessed. They have hopes that when they do not return to the Korosko, a search army will be sent out for them. However, they soon learn that the vessel has also been attacked, and Mrs. Belmont joins the caravan. The only ones who escape are the widow and her child, in a boat. So they still have hopes that the Egyptians will find them in time.
    The passage that perhaps best sums up their inner transformation of strength is this:

How rudely they had been jostled out of their take-it-for-granted complacency! The same shimmering silver stars, as they had looked upon last night, the same thin crescent moon—but they, what a chasm lay between that old pampered life and this!

    Indeed. I think that passage also sums up a great deal going on today, and people that have no clue where the world is headed.
    This adventure will certainly keep you at the edge of your seat, because one really does not know how it will turn out until the end. It's a quick and easy read—recommended.

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