Sunday, November 11, 2012

REVIEW: A Son of the Sahara by Louise Gerard (1922)

I've got a fever, and I need more sheiks.


I stumbled across this purely by accident while feverishly downloading Google Books to my newish tablet willy nilly. Love that public domain Victorian and Edwardian shit, and when the cutoff year is 1923 some of these sheiky tales get in under that copyright cutoff. (There are so many others that are beyond my reach because bookseller prices are INSANE, but hopefully I'll live long enough for some of them to perhaps leech back into the digital freebiesphere.)


If one can look past the screaming vintage racism that permeates the entire narrative, this little gem from 1922 - written during the height of sheik fever - is a romance trip down your grandma's (or great-grandma's) memory lane.

The tagline on the dustjacket (according to an online dealer site) is "I have owned a hundred women!" Right there, just with that, it will forever be a favorite and close to my ravished little heart.

THE PLOT:
Raoul Le Breton/Sheik Cassim is really the purely white son of a French captain and his wife, but he doesn't know that. He meets rich girl Pansy Langham in the Grand Canaries and is totally fascinated with her because she doesn't fall all over him like his Frenchy and harem hussies. He chases her all over, and she wants to say yes, but that tainted half-breed blood keeps forcing her to say no. Unfortunately Pansy's dad is the one who gave the order to have his presumed-real father, the Sultan, killed. So when Raoul finds out, he goes apedump and abducts her to his harem where he tries to wear her down even more. There's harem hussy conniving, hyena attacks, bombardments by the French, and a final reveal that holy white blood flows unhindered in Raoul's veins and therefore coitus and marriage will not be an offense in the eyes of God.

LET'S GET THIS OVER WITH:
OK, yeah, totally racist. But then again, it was the 1920s. There ain't gonna be any real miscegenation in the mainstream pulp like this. Pansy berates Raoul for his inescapable savagery based on his race, and Raoul says he is who he is because of his race. So when it's all revealed at the end that he's 100% white, he's relieved that he can embrace "white ideals," which have a blot-free track record and have no flaws whatsoever.

If there's anything about this book that would offend anybody, it's the race angle.

So, moving on...

Q: IS THIS LIKE "THE SHEIK"?
A: KINDA, BUT NOT REALLY.

If you've read The Sheik by Edith M. Hull, you know how dense and flowery it is. Gerard's writing is much less frilly, almost Harlequin Presents simple. (In fact, strip it of the racism, give it a dippy title like The Sheik's Reluctant Virgin Bride, and it could be reissued as an HP with no problem.) Chapters are short and less focused on mood, but emphasize dialogue and action. In this respect, it was much easier to read. Maybe not as rich on the eyes, but it seemed like more happened. I savored both books, didn't want them to end, and got involved with the characters, even though they differ so much.


The sale proceeded in tense excitment -- twenty men
were bidding for her.
The hero, Raoul/Cassim, is much less brutal than Ahmed, but probably because Ahmed was more of a nomad sheik whereas Raoul is the kind who divides his time between boning chicks in Paris and boning chicks in his harem. He's got a lot of them hanging all over him, vying for his favors and who is he to say no? He's the grandaddy of all these Harlequin globe-trotting tycoon billionaire mansluts.

Lady Diana in "The Sheik" was a standoffish cold fish, and didn't really seem to have much of a pulse. She wrung her hands with her lust for Ahmed after his nightly visits, but I didn't cotton to her the way I did to Pansy. She was such a sweetheart! Tomboyish and goofy and quick with a comeback, she also has a heart of gold when it comes to her horse, which she saved from a bunch of abusive bastards at a London stable. That bit o' backstory did a lot to make me cozy up to her character, and it tied in well with the scene of Pansy in danger in the desert. (Animal loyalty not resulting in death FTW!)

This one has no rape. Ahmed repeatedly ran roughshod over Diana, but Raoul is quite restrained and apparently figures that having to rape Pansy would hurt his pride and dignity. He instead decides to wear her down with his devotion and charm, while still being cocky and arrogant and braggy about all his conquests. So he is probably more palatable to modern sensibilities than Ahmed is. If you didn't like The Sheik because of that, then this one might be easier to swallow.

THEY MADE A MOVIE OF THIS??
Yes, they did (with future husband-and-wife-for-awhile Bert Lytell & Claire Windsor) and I so wanna see it.




Unfortunately it's lost, like 75% of all movies made pre-1930. (Goddammit.) Gutenberg's HTML file of this had these stills, which is probably nearly all that survives of the movie. Sad, man.

FINAL WORDS:
You like sheiks? You like Harleys? Then you have to read it. And this public domain title is out there everywhere, so there's no excuse not to.

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