Life in the Desert, or, Recollections of Travel in Asia and Africa


Life in the Desert, or, Recollections of Travel in Asia and Africa is an English translation of a work originally published in 1860 in France under the title Les Mystères du Désert. The purported author, Louis Du Couret (1812–67), claimed to be the son of a colonel in the French army. He traveled to the Middle East in 1836, where he served as a military officer under Muḥammad ʻAlī (1769–1849), pasha and wali (governor) of Egypt, and fought in the Battle of Nezib in Syria in 1839. He converted to Islam, took the name ʻAbd al-Ḥamīd Bey, and performed the hajj. Life in the Desert is an account of a yearlong voyage across the Arabian Peninsula undertaken by Du Couret in 1844–45. Du Couret’s voyage began in Ṣanʻā', Yemen, where he joined a large merchant caravan, and ended in Ṣuḥār, Oman. The book includes detailed descriptions of the people he encountered, discussion of Arab customs and mores, and descriptions of plants and animals. At the time the book was published, Du Couret was suspected of inventing some of the incidents and encounters he recalled, and scholars, including Professor Heinrich Kiepert of the University of Berlin, questioned the veracity of his writing. Modern scholars have gone further, and have argued persuasively that Du Couret never existed, and that he was a complete invention by the great French writer Alexandre Dumas. Dumas published another book that purported to be by Du Couret, L’Arabie heureuse, souvenirs de voyages en Afrique et en Asie (Arabia Felix, memoirs of travel in Africa and Asia), which also appears to have been an elaborate literary hoax.

Last updated: October 29, 2015