Reviewer Lois C. Henderson: Lois is a freelance academic editor and back-of-book indexer, who spends most of her free time compiling word search puzzles for tourism and educative purposes. Her puzzles are available HERE and HERE Her Twitter account (@LoisCHenderson) mainly focusses on the toponymy of British place names. Please feel welcome to contact her with any feedback at LoisCourtenayHenderson@gmail.com.
Author: Alan Gold
Publisher: Yucca Publishing
ISBN-10: 1631580078; ISBN-13: 978-1631580079
Seldom has a leading female diplomat and political powerhouse been written about in such expansive and generous detail, and with such empathy, as Gold has mastered in Bell of the Desert: A Novel. But then, of course, one must remember that this is a novel, as the subtitle so pivotally notes. However, for full bloodedness of plot and characterization, one would have to go far to find another work that so strongly reflects the spirit of the times in which Gertrude Bell lived, and the role that she played therein. Her versatility and willingness to traverse landscape, both metaphorical and literal, that had never before been travelled by man, let alone woman, is proof of her uniqueness as a woman who excelled in so many different spheres into which the vast majority of her peers dared not even venture.
The transcontinental journalistic background of Alan Gold, who is an internationally published and translated author, columnist and human rights activist, has stood him in excellent stead to tell the story of how this remarkable woman rose to become recognized as the honorary mother of the Arab nation, emerging from an extremely privileged background as the daughter of a wealthy industrialist to become the primary female adviser to kings and desert sheikhs spread halfway across the globe. Bell’s close friendship with leading prospective heads of state, including Prince Faisal (third son of the king of the Hejaz, later to become King Faisal) and Winston Churchill, later to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Her relationship with Colonel Lawrence (more widely known as Lawrence of Arabia) is of particular importance, as her sage advice helped make him the great man that he became.
Making Bell of the Desert: A Novel a fictional account of the outstanding adventurer’s life has enabled Gold to imagine, based on extensive research, the type of conversations that Bell might have had with such prominent figures. Voicing her opinions on a vast array of topics might have made her seem outrageous to the more conservative, but her daring and courageous character enabled her to resist societal pressures for her to remain closeted and domesticated, while her personal wealth set her free from having to conform to the dictates of conventional society. Having to contend with the repressiveness and stereotyping of women both at home and abroad made her, at times, seem defiant to the British authorities, with their vested interests in the Middle East. How she overcame the largely patriarchal bent of the colonial forces to become a key figure in the political reshaping of the Mesopotamian landmass makes for fascinating reading.
The immediacy of this text, and the riveting nature of the progression of the tale, makes this an ideal read for especially young women, who might feel inspired, in their turn, to embark on countless adventures of their own. Much more broadly, though, for anyone who has ever been swept up by the passion and the adventure of it all, Bell of the Desert: A Novel is an engrossing and fast-paced read that, nevertheless, deals with some profound and enduring issues of the day, not least of which are those pertaining to the continuously unfolding history of the formation of Iraq and its many and diverse peoples.