ISBN: 067972821X
ISBN 13: 9780679728214
By: Annette Kobak

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About this book

An illustrated biography of Isabelle Eberhardt who, although she died young, became a legend in her own lifetime. Using her diaries and many previously unpublished letters, the author tells of her childhood in Geneva, her adventures in the North African desert and her identification with the Arabs. The film rights of this book have been sold.

Reader's Thoughts


I enjoyed reading this book about a courageous woman who accomplished the impossible considering the time, geographic locations she traveled, particularly Algeria, and that she was a woman from poverty stricken aristocratic roots who was as comfortable within the realm of European class as she was accepted by Muslim desert sects in the areas where she traveled, and military power within these same areas. I have to wonder why her life took such sadly twisted and ill-chosen turns particularly with the men she chose to be such significant parts of her life, which, toward the end of her short life, seemed desperate. Perhaps the years of travel, poverty, desert life and illness had much to do with these final chapters. But I marvel at her intelligence, bravery and independence.


Fascinating and well-researched biography.


Brave woman, fascinating story.




Overall not totally swept off my feet with this biography of a forgotten woman and author of the turn of the century. Isabelle was of Russian birth (out of wedlock) who grew up in Geneva with her siblings and mother but also with a man who never outright admitted his paternity. Her childhood was full of education but never acceptance and she grew up comfortable with taking on the identity of a young boy which she carried through adulthood. Fascinated by Islamic culture, Isabelle felt she was Muslim at birth and Algeria grew to be her adopted country. Truly taken with the Islamic religion, she would travel extensively in Algeria and Tunesia, learning from religious leaders, but all the while dressing as a man, at times assuming a male name, but taking on various male lovers. She irked the establishment of the French colonial government who thought her a deviant, a woman of wanton needs who induldged in sex and drugs. It was an interesting life story and it is rich in documented references of Isabelle's writings (published and diaries), as well as governmental paperwork which quantifies her life via Russia, Switzerland, France, Algeria, and Tunesia. At times the book felt weighed down by all the details and in the end I was left sadly wondering to what end this book really served. Isabelle marched to her own drum for sure but I am unclear what contribution her individualistic pursuit of religious happiness has to society at large.


This is a biography of Isabelle Eberhardt, a rich, well-educated, cross-dressing, sexually liberated and voracious, anarchist, muslim, woman of Victorian-era Europe. She lived among a Sufi brotherhood as a man but fucked them as a woman. She fought against the French on the side of the Arabs. She spoke several languages. She lived fast, and at 27, she died in a flash flood in Algeria in 1904. Quelle vie!

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