Walking with Abel by Anna Badkhen

Walking with Abel
Anna Badkhen
Riverhead Books

What does a journalist do when her married lover walks out of her life, leaving her despondent?  

Buy This Book



“The descriptions . . . are vivid and lush.”

She leaves the city and goes to walk alongside the nomadic cowboys in the West African country of Mali. In Walking with Abel, Anna Badkhen changes her last name to a Fulani one—Anna Bâ—and makes a home with the Diakayaté family, observing their ethnic group’s ancient way of life, one which finds itself caught up in the very modern world of climate change and Islamic terrorism.

The Fulani people originated in Ethiopia many millennia ago, and both their oral tradition and their DNA confirms this. Cattle herding is seen in Neolithic rock paintings, and these cowboys of the Sahel have traced and retraced the same thousands of steps as their ancestors did, following the water, milking the cows, burying their dead along the way. Simple illnesses easily become fatal when your family lives far from doctors and have no money for medicine. Badkhen notes that the Fulani do not openly cry over their lost loved ones since to do so can encourage evil spirits to prevent both living and dead from entering the afterlife. 

The descriptions of the setting, the people, the cattle and the slowly changing seasons are vivid and lush. You really become a part of the scenery, feeling the dust beneath your feet, smelling the aroma of cow dung fires, hearing the cattle’s low cries. Walking with Abel is about as close as a Westerner can get to life with the Fulani without ever leaving an armchair.

Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews