The late writer Sanmao’s memoir ‘Stories of the Sahara’ is a humanistic whirlwind through a harsh and poignant landscape

“The Sahara Desert had been my dream lover for so long,” Sanmao wrote upon her arrival in the Spanish territory of the Western Sahara in 1973, a moment she’d anticipated ever since seeing pictures in an issue of National Geographic as a child.

Setting her heart on making a home in this landscape of extremes, the 30-year-old writer would memorialize the next three years of her life in Stories of the Sahara, a collection of writings that begins like a whimsical travel memoir and accelerates into a lyrical and bittersweet eulogy to the desert’s fragile peace.

Officially translated and published in English for the first time in 2019, nearly three decades after its author hanged herself by her silk stockings in a Taipei hospital in 1991, Stories of the Sahara no longer has the political relevance or the romantic exoticism that made it a bestseller in Taiwan and the Chinese mainland in the 1970s and 80s. Yet the timelessness that Sanmao loved about the desert has also proven itself in her stories—not for their geography, but for Sanmao’s enduring humanistic passion.

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Desert Echo is a story from our issue, “Alpine Ambitions.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Tina Xu (徐盈盈)

Tina Xu is the former culture editor at The World of Chinese. She writes across film, literature, and society, spanning from indie documentaries to diaspora communities. Her stories for TWOC received the 2021 SOPA Award for Excellence in Regional Reporting on the Environment, and were finalists in Women’s Issues and Photography.

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