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'The Nile, Then and Now'

12:33 PM, Feb 11, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Christian Rocca's must-read in the Wall Street Journal:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is most famous for pioneering the whodunit genre as we know it. But his work is worth re-visiting not just for Sherlock Holmes's deductive powers. In "The Tragedy of Korosko," first published in 1898, he created a novel of eerie topicality. It's a sharp analysis of the same clash of civilization we have been debating since the Islamist attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001.

Written more than a century ago, page after page the book's contemporary relevance comes as a shock to today's reader. In "Korosko" you encounter jihadism, Osama Bin Laden-like characters, pirates, Western soldiers in a Muslim country, a debate over whether it is better to stay the course or withdraw the troops, conspiracy theories, (British) imperialism, France's smoky opposition to hyperpowers, and also Darfur.

***

The novel tells the story of a group of Western tourists on a Nile cruiser called "Korosko" who are kidnapped during a desert trip by a jihadist cell of Dervishes, which was what the Sudanese zealots of the Mahdi were called in Conan Doyle's time. During the course of events, the Korosko is sacked by pirates as Dervishes behead some of the hostages and plan to sell the Western women at Khartoum's slave market.

Even today's ideological rift within the Western world is already foretold here. In the book's first pages, a French tourist and an American fellow have a lively chat about western imperialism that is reminiscent of more recent exchanges:

"'Dervishes, Mister Headingly!' said he, speaking excellent English, but separating his syllables as Frenchmen will. 'There are no Dervishes. They do not exist.'

"'Why, I thought the woods were full of them,' said the American. . . ."

Whole thing here.

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