As I read widely on the first few years of the British Empire’s struggle against the Axis forces, the logic behind my main character, Russell Stonechild, and the natural progression of the military struggle led to Africa. I have always been interested in geography, and my early research identified an interesting geographic location. “The Gilf Kebir,” so named by an early Egyptian explorer, Ahmed Mohammed Hassanein Bey. The Great Barrier.
The Gilf Kebir is a rock wall separating the desolate sands of Egypt’s Western Desert from the equally desolate expanse of the Libyan desert. Here occurred events of Ondatje’s “The English Patient.”
This formation is described by Alan Watson at http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/gilfkebir1.htm.
“Egypt’s Western Desert is full of wondrous natural phenomenon and surprises. Sometimes one wanders over a ridge or through a pass and discovers alien worlds, such as in the White Desert. Less known perhaps, but growing in popularity is the ancient plateau known as Gilf Kebir (Great Barrier), its sides now heavily eroded and penetrated by huge sand wadis and incredible dune systems which, at one point, rise 300 meters to meet the level of the plateau, an irresistible force meeting an immovable object!”
Watson goes on to describe this formation as “a huge shelf the size of Switzerland, it is nearly dissected in two by a large cap. It rises 300 meters from the desert floor (1075 meters above sea level), forming one of the most formidable barriers in Africa.”
I didn’t quite know how, but I knew early in my writing that Russell Stonechild would meet the Gilf Kebir.
I have read hundreds of pages relating to action around this amazing site. I have examined image after image. And now I have Russell Stonechild about to enter the sand-filled and rock strewn wadi’s of the Gilf Kebir. And here, a century and a half earlier, one of the wealthiest Egyptian warlords, Alfi Bey, may have hidden treasures pillaged through a lifetime.
Treasure, however, is low on Russell’s priorities. He has already run from Hitler’s onslaught in France and Belgium, as told in the novel Stonechild’s Enigma. Now one of the hero’s of that Nazi victory has arrived in North Africa. Rommel’s Africa Corps has pushed the British to a fragile toe-hold on Egypt’s border. Russell fears the little blocking force of which he is part will arouse Rommel’s ire, and once more he will face a formidable foe with superior weaponry and leadership.