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The Cook. The Dervish. The Geographer. The Artist. The Jongleur. The Scholar.  The Historian.  A group of men are imprisoned by their Sultan and await death; they are to be executed for petty crimes. 

They all have one regret—not to have done the pilgrimage to Mecca.  Then, hey presto!  A talking parrot, centuries old, flies into their cell and rebukes them, suggesting they undertake the overland pilgrimage in their minds.   

So the prisoners imagine the journey, weaving art, geography, history, cuisine, literature, philosophy, Sufism, anecdotes and comic stories, to travel a fabulous road across the breathtaking and punishing landscapes of North Africa.  

All the while they are accompanied by the convivial parrot and its recollections of the past, whether in the company of the Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton in Tangier, as a mascot in the French Foreign Legion, mingling with the cross-dresser Isabelle Eberhardt, as companion to an English aristocrat in Algiers, enslaved by pirates off Tripoli, as sidekick to the circus strongman Giovanni Belzoni or muse to Gustave Flaubert in Cairo.  It's a roller coaster of adventures that prove as colourful as its feathers.

But who will reach Mecca, as one by one the prisoners are dragged out of the cell to meet the executioner?

Winner of the K Blundell Trust Award.