Timbuctoo by Tahir Shah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don't normally do narrative reviews but I was thrilled to get a digital ARC of this book in return for an honest critical review, which I am providing in good faith.
Full disclosure: I am a fan of Tahir Shah's non-fiction works, own all of them, and count them among my favorite books ever. I value his appreciation for the everyday absurdities of life, his respect for individuals, and his mastery of the storyteller's craft in order to build bridges of understanding across cultures. When I read that he was tackling historical fiction, I was curious to see how he'd translate his skills to that genre, as it happens to be my favored reading category. My preferred historical fiction authors are those who respect the historical record and do not deliberately alter it by intent or omission to fit their intended narrative, instead following their imaginations to interpret the trail of real events and fill in the gaps, taking side trips and detours to enhance the journey. Shah approaches his task with obvious respect for historical integrity and crafts an entertaining and compelling tale.
He uses his skills as a modern-day explorer and storyteller to great effect in exploring this world of the past. The reader doesn't need a working knowledge of Regency England to appreciate this book but those who are familiar with the Establishment figures who make cameos and extended appearances will delight in Shah's spot-on portrayals, which I found funny, poignant and everything in between. Shah's integrity to the period is writ large and small, evident in everything from the narrative conceits and stylings of the format to the details of everyday life. Here is where Shah's background as a "travel writer" is a strength, for he isn't simply writing about Regency England: he's on a journey through place and time and takes the reader along for a rollicking good ride. The companion website provides a treasure trove (quite literally!) of supplemental and background info to enhance the trip.
Timbuctoo is a real winner. There's something for everyone: history, mystery, adventure, layered and enjoyable characters, tortured romance, and the promise and lure of treasure at every turn. I'm looking forward to purchasing a hard copy to enjoy the additional special edition design elements but the story stands solidly on the strength of its writing, characterizations, and plot. It's all great fun.