Ain Sefra, Algeria, 1904

A subject to which few intellectuals ever give a thought is the right to be a vagrant, the freedom to wander. Yet vagrancy is deliverance, and life on the open road is the essence of freedom. To have the courage to smash the chains with which modern life has weighted us (under the pretext that it was offering us more liberty), then to take up the symbolic stick and bundle, and get out!

To one who understands the value and the delectable flavor of solitary freedom (for no one is free who is not alone), leaving is the bravest and finest act of all.

An egotistical happiness, possibly. But for him who relishes the flavor, happiness.

To be alone, to be poor in needs, to be ignored, to be an outsider who is at home everywhere, and to walk, great and by oneself, toward the conquest of the world.

The healthy wayfarer sitting beside the road scanning the horizon open before him, is he not the absoute master of the earth, the waters, and even the sky? What house-dweller can vie with him in power and wealth? His estate has no limits, his empire no law. No work bends him toward the ground, for the bounty and beauty of the earth are already his. — Isabelle Eberhardt, from The Oblivion Seekers


Departures: Selected Writings

Isabelle Eberhardt

Eberhardt’s short life was perhaps her greatest work of art. Despite her eventful existence, she was able to artfully chronicle her milieu in a body of remarkably textured prose. Departures compiles in a single volume a significant cross section of her short fiction and her travel journals, as well as supplementary essays which place her in a greater historical and cultural context. JAT

Publisher: City Lights
Paperback: 245 pages

The Destiny of Isabelle Eberhardt

Cecily Mackworth

“One may judge Isabelle as the neurotic she undoubtedly was, the victim of a disastrous heredity and a criminal upbringing. One may see in her the adventuress, eager for sensation and ready to do anything that would bring in the small sums of money necessary to continue her chosen existence. There is the artist whose sensibility responded so immediately and completely to beauty; there is the exalted mystic who longed to die in the cause of Islam. But there is also the warm human being who could pardon every offense, who thought ill of no one, who loved the humblest and most disinherited of humanity and hated only that which was false and pretentious… It is useless to look for a logical thread on which to hang so chaotic an existence… Isabelle’s life was based on a fantastic dream of liberty. At least she had the courage to live that dream to the full, accepting the misery and degradation that its realization entailed, and proudly accepting death.”

Publisher: Ecco
Paperback: 229 pages

In the Shadow of Islam

Isabelle Eberhardt

“To live alone is to live free. I no longer want to care about anything. Over the course of months I will place my soul apart. I have known so many days when I lived like a stray dog. Those days are far off, behind vast solitudes, behind crushing mountains, beyond the arid high plateau and the cultivated Tell, anguished nights in town where worries tumbled behind my eyes, where my heart ached with pity and impotence. Now I have won back my pride, and friendly faces are kinder to me. I will suffer no more from anyone.” In the Shadow of Islam recounts Eberhardt's journey to and stay at the remote desert zawiya, or religious establishment, of Kenadsa. Written shortly before her death, it is in some senses a travel journal; but it is most distinctive for what is omitted. Writing of her journey, Eberhardt never reveals her destination until her actual arrival. While in Kenadsa for Islamic training, she is required by tradition to remain silent about her instruction. Instead, she writes of the surrounding landscape and the activities around Kenadsa not forbidden to tell. These observations display a heightened sensitivity to their details and their significance in a compelling narrative. JAT

Publisher: Peter Owen
Hardback: 120 pages

Isabelle: The Life of Isabelle Eberhardt

Annette Kobak

Isabelle Eberhardt sought to experience the whole range of life among the Arabs of North Africa. Born in Switzerland from the union between a Russian woman with aristocratic ties and her children’s anarchist tutor, Eberhardt was raised wearing boy’s clothing and schooled in languages. Traveling to North Africa, she dressed as a man, converted to Islam, became addicted to kif (hashish) and took numerous male lovers before marrying an Arab sergeant. Joining a mysterious Sufi sect, she traveled across the desert and documented her picaresque life in numerous letters and journals before her premature death at age 27 in a freak desert flash flood. Isabelle sorts through the legend to capture all of the intricate strands of her short and eventful life. Relying on journals, unpublished letters and records in archives in Switzerland, France and Algeria, Kobak debunks fanciful myths (for example, that Rimbaud was her father) and demonstrates control of such sensational material. While perhaps lacking the poetry of Eberhardt’s own writings, this biography offers an excellent and comprehensive portrait of this legendary figure. JAT

Publisher: Penguin
Paperback: 268 pages

The Oblivion Seekers

Isabelle Eberhardt

Eberhardt left behind a small body of writing and a large legend of a life. This Swiss-French woman plunged deep into the Sahara and the secrets of Sufism in colonial Algeria. “No one ever lived more from day to day than I, or was more dependent on chance. It is the inescapable chain of events that has brought me to this point, rather than I who have caused these things to happen.”

Publisher: City Lights
Paperback: 88 pages

Prisoner of Dunes

Isabelle Eberhardt

“There are so many miserable people, hopelessly besmirched by their daily grind, who spend life’s brief hours in useless, absurd recriminations against everyone and everything. They are blind to the ineffable beauty of things, to the sad splendor of suffering humanity. Happy is he for whom nothing proceeds bestially and cruelly by chance, to whom all earth’s treasures are familiar, for whom all does not end foolishly in the darkness of the grave!” The vignettes and stories which make up Prisoner of Dunes span the years of Eberhardt’s life in North Africa and her period of exile in Marseilles. Most of these selections were either written in El Oued, the “town of a thousand domes,” or Marseilles, where she recalled El Oued. El Oued was the center of Eberhardt’s Saharan adventure and was the one place she dreamed of one day settling. Expressing the tensions that drove her and the strands of magical beauty she sought, Prisoner of Dunes evocatively captures this life. JAT

Publisher: Peter Owen
Paperback: 127 pages