BOOK: "Angry Wind," by Jeffrey Tayler (Houghton-Mifflin, $25)
TARGET AUDIENCE: People fascinated by maps that show endless open spaces.
Having seared us in the western Sahara ("Glory in a Camel's Eye"), Tayler now sandblasts us in the Sahel, "the southern shore to the Saharan sand sea." Throughout Muslim Black Africa -- from Chad westward through Nigeria, Niger, Mali and Senegal -- as constant as the dusty, stinging winds are bitter poverty and official corruption. Little gets done without bribery, and what does get done yields terrifying rides along unmarked pistes in dilapidated trucks.
A Christian but a student of Islam, Tayler is harangued by both religious groups -- each sincere, each unbendable. The admirable grace and charity of the Sahel's forlorn people is offset by the cheapness of life there and their tolerance of the cruel -- slavery, for example, or female circumcision. But even more rewarding than Tyler's pinpoint descriptions are his explanations.
Tayler frequently will send you to the dictionary -- "neems," "tarboosh" and "tougoulmoust" all go undefined -- but long after you forget the words you looked up, his images will hang in your mind.
-- Jerry V. Haines