Only One PlaceThomas Stangl
Graz: Droschl, 2004
Paperback edition: btb Verlag, 2006
Two European travellers each undertake their own independent Africa expedition in the eighteen-twenties. Although different from each other, both are spirits of their time and of Europe with the same goal: to find the mythical city of Timbuktu in Mali and to enjoy the fame of being the first European to do so. Major Alexander Gordon Laing made his way across the Sahara from Tripoli with a large caravan whereas the Frenchman René Caillié travelled on his own from Senegal, crossing the Niger.
The English Laing thought he had the support of the whole Empire behind him but he soon saw himself entangled in the prevailing administrative machinery while Caillié had a private mission to reveal the mysteries of Timbuktu to Europe. He therefore pretended to be an Arab who had been carried off to France and lived in fear that his robes would go flying. Both braved deprivation and exertion and finally reached the city. And both were ruined by it.
Stangl’s novel attempts to discover why these men were so fascinated with Timbuktu: how could they withstand the incredible efforts and obstructions in the quest to find a city the existence of which had until then only reposed on legend. What is so bewitching in the very name of Timbuktu?