||Waris Dirie's story puts "rags to riches" to shame. The "Desert Flower" started life as one of 12 children of a Somali nomad family, a people with no written culture, where the basic unit of currency is the camel. Faced at 12 with the prospect of marriage to a 60-year-old man she didn't know, she broke all the rules and ran away, surviving a traumatic trek across the desert to end up in London, as a maid to the Somalian Ambassador. It was in McDonalds that her striking beauty was "discovered", leading to a career in modelling and another as an ardent campaigner against female genital mutilation (circumcision).
As a novel it would be unbelievable, as Waris survives circumcision, rape, arranged marriage, a lion attack--you name it, she's lived through it. But the book is remarkable less for its deliberately dramatic set pieces, and more for its haunting evocation of the little-told life of Somalian nomads, seen from a child's telling perspective, where life centres on the beloved camels, the horrors of womanhood are still an exciting mystery, and the nights are filled with the smell of frankincense. Desert Flower is a recollection of such gentle beauty that "rags to riches" seems hardly appropriate.--Alan Stewart