"historical" and "gasp"

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I am reading Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient". There's a sentence that I dont know what it really means:

There were continually drownings, tribes suddenly made historical with sand across their gasp.

I think two words are problematic here is "historical" and "gasp"

Would you please help me understand this sentence
Many thanks
  • liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    It would be easier to understand with more of the surrounding text but I would take it to mean that whole tribes were regularly destroyed by burial in sand.

    Drownings (in sand).
    Made historical = ceased to exist
    Sand across their gasp = breath (real or metaphorical) choked off by sand?
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