He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the end of a chapter and contains only six lines. It seems a bit unfair of Ford Madox Ford to ask so much of so little, but that’s the way it goes with dictums, so these six lines will have to do. They describe the explorer Heinrich Barth sitting in a desert camp in 1850, in what is now central Niger. He is eight months into his great journey, which he would be shocked to know will last for five-and-half-years and cover 10,000 miles.Learn more about the book and author at Steve Kemper's website and blog.
At this moment on page 99 he is writing to the British Foreign Office, which hired him as a scientist, about his recent visit to the ancient trading post of Agadez. He feels that he is writing to save the expedition, which has already been pillaged and extorted of nearly all its goods. Barth hopes that his report about the wonders of Agadez will inspire Europe’s scientists to push the British government to send more funds so that the expedition can continue.
From those few lines on page 99:
“Otherwise, he noted, ‘after our heavy losses, we should be obliged to return directly, leaving the chief objects of the expedition unattained.’
“Seven months after leaving Tripoli, those objects were almost within reach. And just ahead lay Kano, the greatest city in central Sudan.”
Looking at those lines, I concede that they partly vindicate FMF’s dictum. The page shows Barth in one of his familiar dilemmas: he is desperate for funds, unsure he will be able to continue, hopeful that his discoveries will be appreciated in Europe, and excited by the prospect of the next unknown locale and what it may reveal.
The page is atypical in that it features no deprivations or death threats, no Africans or African marvels, which fill most of the book.