Not much is known with certainty about the Queen of Sheba. Accounts in the Bible and the Quran of the ancient royal's meeting with King Solomon vary in significant ways, while Arabic literary texts from the 11th and 12th centuries add such details as "the queens legs were terrifically hairy and required a depilatory before Solomon would bed her." This according to Toronto-based author Larry Frolick, who begins his second work of nonfiction, Ten Thousand Scorpions
, as a search for the supposedly hirsute queens fabled gold. But the search becomes something more. "For Muslims the main elements of Shebas story are fabulous, mysteriously wrought," he writes. "It's not about gold, but a transformative kind of magic. In fact, it's precisely about rejecting gold in favour of receiving great spiritual treasure." So too does the search for the shiny stuff lead Frolick on a quest to not only figure out the myth behind the monarch but to understand the interpretations of the myth, and the significance of those interpretations, by different cultures. The journey begins in Yemen, where a stone tablet discovered by a Canadian mining exploration company in 1996 is thought to provide a clue to the existence of a hidden cache of gold, and leads Frolick to Ethiopia and Turkey, each of which has its own myth surrounding the historical figure. In between his interpretation of the clues he finds, Frolick digresses on everything from finding a stockpile of Wired
magazines in Yemen to an encounter with a Rastafarian colony in Ethiopia to an exchange with a hyper-organized German tourist. In the latter, Frolick demonstrates a novelist's ear for dialogue, such as when he recounts a conversation about the cataloguing of photographs. "'Yes, yes,' he [the tourist] nodded impatiently. 'In my system, I can go to any date and time and pull out a picture and know exactly all the technical details about it. I make slide shows for my friends.' I blinked at the thought. 'So you're really into photography,' I said stupidly." Seldom letting his story get in the way of a good tangent, Frolick has written a historical travelogue that is never less than entertaining, often informative, and usually both. Even if we never do learn where the gold is--or if, for that matter, that royal depilatory really happened. --Shawn Conner
--This text refers to the
About the Author
is the author of Splitting Up: Divorce, Culture, and the Search for a Real Life, Ten Thousand Scorpions
, and Grand Centaur Station
. He lives in Toronto.From the Hardcover edition.