To the Moon and Timbuktu: Book summary and reviews of To the Moon and Timbuktu by Nina Sovich

To the Moon and Timbuktu

A Trek through the Heart of Africa

by Nina Sovich

To the Moon and Timbuktu

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About this book

Book Summary

This lyrical memoir will transport you to the breathtaking landscapes of West Africa, whose stark beauties will instill wonder in even the most experienced traveler. Sovich's journey reveals that sometimes we must pursue that distant glimmer on the horizon in order to find the things we value most.

Nina Sovich had always yearned for adventures in faraway places; she imagined herself leading the life of a solitary traveler. Yet at the age of thirty-four, she found herself married and contemplating motherhood. Catching her reflection in a window spotted with Paris rain, she no longer saw the fearless woman who spent her youth travelling in Cairo, Lahore, and the West Bank staring back at her. Unwittingly, she had followed life's script, and now she needed to cast it out.

Inspired by female explorers like Mary Kingsley, who explored Gabon's jungle in the 1890s, and Karen Blixen, who ran a farm in Kenya during World War I, Sovich packed her bags and hopped on the next plane to Africa in search of adventure.

To the Moon and Timbuktu takes readers on a fast-paced trek through Western Sahara, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, bringing their textures and flavors into vivid relief. On Sovich's travels, she encounters rough-and-tumble Chinese sailors, a Venezuelan doctor working himself to death in Chinguetti, indifferent French pensioners RVing along the coast, and a close-knit circle of Nigerien women who adopt her into their fold, showing her the promise of Africa's future.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"A deeply personal journey into an incredibly remote region. Sovich casts her polished journalistic eye on the anguish and sublime beauty she encounters while unflinchingly narrating her own intensely intimate journey." - Publishers Weekly

"While her stories are moving and the scenery is as beautifully caught as with a camera, Sovich reaches for spiritual life lessons that fail to ring true." - Kirkus

"In her astute travel memoir, Sovich examines the dilemma so many women face: how to choose between a life of domesticity and one of adventure. An engaging, suspenseful, deeply philosophical anatomy of the process of making - and making peace with - life's major choices." - Rosemary Mahoney, More Magazine

"To the Moon and Timbuktu traverses the wide open expanses of the desert and the interior labyrinths of the travelling id with a lyrical, wonderful and heartfelt generosity of spirit. Nina Sovich is a new kind of travel writer: honest, open and brave. Here are the soaring vistas and the warm funny details that would draw us all to the open road and up-and-down adventures along the way. I loved every page." - Wendell Steavenson, writer for The New Yorker and author of Stories I Stole

"Nina Sovich's spare, uninhibited writing blasts through journalistic cliches. There are sentences that recall Andre Gide's The Immoralist. Her soaring description of the Niger River in Mali is exactly as I experienced it. Her description of Mauritania's utter desolation makes me want to go there." - Robert D. Kaplan, author of The Revenge of Geography "In reading To the Moon and Timbuktu I constantly had to fight off the call to pack up my suitcases and book the next flight to Bhutan, Iceland or Laos. Nina Sovich's luscious, intelligent and deeply philosophical memoir of a solo trip to the almost-mythical land of Timbuktu reminds me of my own wild side. She is the perfect companion to this faraway place—equal parts questing, compassionate, graceful and literary. She reminds us that it is in exploration that we find freedom, humanity and our true selves again."—Alison Singh Gee, author of Where the Peacock Sings: A Palace, a Prince, and the Search for Home

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Reader Reviews

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Lora O. (Antioch, CA)

Yearning for Timbuktu
I thought this book was the most wonderful memoir on solitary travel by a woman since Robyn Davidson's "Tracks". This is the first account I ever read of someone who is not enamored of life of a young married woman in Paris - the author needed to be on her own, to challenge herself and to find the world. Her journey was enthralling on every page - this is not the fluff of Wild or Eat Pray Love, but difficult travel through some of the harshest areas of the world, in terms of climate and politics. While the author does look within, examining her own life and goals, she is also directed outward toward the people she meets. Her plan of action is to find the women, and follow them, for safety and their stories. The conditions of western Africa, the poverty, aridity, lack of amenities, human rights and amenities are unimaginable to me, yet she uncovers and describes the beauty and the remarkable stories of everyone she meets.

This book spoke strongly to me about the need for a woman to make it on her own, to find her own strength and to discover the world through her own eyes. I loved her stories of the Victorian traveler Mary Kingsly and other travelers in this remote region in the past. This book made me want to follow in her footsteps and moved me so much. Every year, I try to find one remarkable book to give to my friends at holiday time. I have already ordered several copies of this one to share.

Molly B. (Longmont, CO)

The Feel of Travel
Sovich is one brave woman and offers us honest explanations of the motives and motivations for her extreme travel. They are understandable, if you have ever traveled on your own. There is appeal to being so in-the-moment and slowed down that when the little store selling Fanta is unexpectedly closed, you sit down to wait, and two hours pass before you consider leaving. The restlessness, the appreciation of the loveliest aspects of African life, the lack of personal care, the proximity to losing self and sanity, the unbelievably understanding husband – all these are parts of a great and haunting story.

Rose N. (Saginaw, MI)

To the Moon and Timbuktu
Nina Sovich inherited a thirst for wanderlust from her mother. This being so, at age thirty-four, with her husband's blessing, she left her job and her comfortable Paris home to satisfy this wanderlust. Stripped of all comforts, frequently traveling barefoot in native dress, her three treks through the northwestern countries of Africa gave her a profound sense of peace and liberation. Her detailed descriptions of the desert landscape, the difficult bus and truck trips, and the loving native women give the reader a feeling a shared experience.

This book is definitely recommended for readers, young and old, who love to travel and who would like to learn about places they may never have the chance or inclination to visit.

Mark O. (Wenatchee, WA)

To The Moon & Timbuktu
Alberto Manguel, in "A Reading Diary" discusses Kenneth Grahame's "Wind in the Willows": "Grahame wisely divides adventurers into adventurers who like their adventures orderly and those who prefer the thrill of chaos." Nina Sovich is clearly of the latter: "Out there [Africa] lay deserts and mountains, a harsh and empty terrain that would demand firm decisions, bold character strokes ... I could test myself out there. I could be changed."

This is a potentially life-nudging read. We learn about countries that many of us (i.e., me) couldn't find on a map (there is a good map at the front; keep your thumb there). We learn, vicariously, that most of what we encounter in unscripted travel contains opposites, has nuances. Travel in remote places comes with privations but normal is an adjustable concept. Islam holds both zealous anger and readings of the Qur'an that sing, gently. A "Stranger in a Strange Land" will be an exploitable resource for some but a protected guest for many others.

After reading "To the Moon and Timbuktu," even those of us partial to the familiar and the near-at-hand might decide to be a traveler in our own country, maybe even uncomfortably free-range, so that we might return home made bigger.

Beverly D. (Palm Harbor, FL)

NOT a travelogue....
I really enjoyed this memoir...a story of discovery of both self and unknown places. The writing simply flows and carries you along with Nina in the dust and the heat of the western Sahara. Her revelation about the company of women absolutely struck my soul. The need to go to a very foreign place to realize this makes one consider the how disconnected we have all become in the "modern" world. Highly recommended for book clubs, especially those interested in "women's studies".

Susan B. (Sarasota, FL)

An adventure in remote West Africa
Nina Sovich has written a book about her wanderlust that anyone who loves to travel will recognize. While she, at 34, takes it to the height of adventure, traveling to West Africa, she writes in a style that keeps the reader engaged and on the edge of their seat to discover what happens next to this bold, gutsy woman.

Having recently been to West Africa, I can say her description of how life is there is spot on. The desolate sand swept desert and towns, the heat, lack of any creature comforts which do not in any way deter her from her quest to get to Timbuktu make this book a great adventure for the reader.

She is inspired by previous female explorers such as Mary Kingsley and Karen Blixen and uses them both to inspire her onward with her journey. Quoting from their journals and books she often looks to them for guidance when travel becomes hard.

Although she has a loving husband and a life in Paris, she is determined to get to Timbuktu, not making it the first time but going back again and making it there the second time. She writes of her experience in a way that makes it more than a travelog, more like an adventure novel.

I enjoyed this book and could not put it down. It is a great selection for a book club as there are many aspects of her personality and decisions to inspire conversation.

...16 more reader reviews

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More Information

More Information

Over the past decade, Nina Sovich has written for The Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, TIME, Fortune Small Business, and The Patriot Ledger. Most recently she was a wire reporter at Dow Jones and then at Reuters in Paris where she covered everything from fashion shows to banking reform. Visit her at www.thesestolendays.com/nina-sovich

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