In Search Of King Solomon’s Mines, by Tahir Shah
Who knew that the search for the legendary gold mines of Ophir of King Solomon could be a family quest that included the author as well as his father and grandfather? As someone who is by no means unacquainted with crazy traveling quests inspired by my family , there was a lot in this book I could understand. The author was certainly a far more unscrupulous traveler than I was and clearly he had mixed motives that were fascinating to watch. Who, for example, brings a fancy gold detector on a trip to desperately poor Ethiopia and spends his time with all kinds of greedy wildcat gold miners while also uprightly claiming that he was not interested in mining for personal profit. Only someone who was deeply ambivalent about what they were about would do such a thing, and yet that is what we find here, a travelogue of a man obsessed with ancient gold mines who has a somewhat critical but also humane eye towards the country of Ethiopia and its people. It is ultimately that humane but critical eye that makes this book ultimately enjoyable to read even if the author is not an entirely trustworthy narrator.
The book takes a bit more than 230 pages and begins with a dramatic story about the author’s encounter with a dodgy treasure map in Old Jerusalem (1), which leads the author to take a trip to Ethiopia and divide his explorations there with seven stones to find the most likely place where King Solomon’s mines can be found (2). After this the author goes to the Harar area where he finds a man whose job it is to feed hyenas (!) to keep them from eating little children (!!) (3) before visiting the wildcat mines in the southern part of the country where his religious guide is from (4) where the violence and depravity of the community leads them to be thought of as children of the devil (5). A brief spell in prison for being a foreigner in an illegal mine leads the author to think of a brave fellow traveler who had promised breakfast with Idi Amin before his untimely death (6) and eventually the author is able to visit some mines and return to Addis Ababa where a Somali driver with a khat addiction promises to drive him to the north in one the ancient and decrepit jeeps of the late Ethiopian emperor (7). This drive proves itself to be particularly difficult although there are discussions of some furtive gold mines that exist in the region (8) and a trip that is made by the author on some camels to a place of former savages where the author’s Somali driver refuses to go (9). When the author arrives at the supposed place of gold (10) he finds some comfort in looking at the history of Ethopia’s glorious religious past (11) and the efforts of previous leaders to avoid central control over their mad violence (12). Finally, the book winds to a close as the author takes some rented mules (13) on a trip to a mountain of supposed gold only to find his way blocked (14) and a second trip to the area leading the author to be concerned about his own sanity in searching after this gold (15).
How much you like this book will depend on a variety of factors. Do you like travel books that look at travel into history and in dangerous places with some degree of illegality involved? Are you okay with the narrator being unreliable and deceptive to a high degree? Are you alright with discussions about the rivalries that exist between nations and cultures and frank discussion of prostitution and drug addiction as well as the death of people and beloved animals? The more of this sort of thing that the reader is able to stomach or even able to appreciate, the more this book will be enjoyed. Although this author is not one whose word I feel is necessarily trustworthy, he does paint a convincing enough picture of the land of Ethiopia and its complexity and the way that its glorious past and abominable present make it a combustible area lacking a great deal of stability and hope, and that gives me more than a little bit of pity for those who live there even if the author himself is not someone I would want to travel with myself.
 See, for example: