Archive for September, 2010

Vladimir Bartol: Alamut

September 22, 2010

51aGnYrOPZL._AA160_I first came across the name ‘Alamut’, which was the fortress of the hashishin/assassins in mediaeval Persia, when I read Amin Maalouf’s beautiful novel ‘Samarkand’; this novel looks at the same place and time through the eyes of the poet Omar Khayyam. ‘Alamut’ is much darker, exploring how the myth of heaven with seventy virgins at your service as the reward for suicide warriors was first created and used. It is a novel, but Bartol does manage to take you right inside the mindset of the warriors, and also the man who realised the destructive potential available to him if he could manipulate vulnerable minds in this way.

Recent history in the Middle East and elsewhere is enlightened, and yet this novel, by a Slovenian writer I’d never heard of, was written and published before the Second World War. It’s well translated, nicely published, and a chilling read.

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Isabella Bird: The Golden Chersonese

September 17, 2010

511CX1MKT3L._AA160_I first came across Isabella Bird via the librivox website and downloaded a wonderful recording of ‘A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains’, and this was the only book I’ve ever read that actually gave me a real desire to visit the United States.  A solitary woman traveller in late Victorian times, she describes her adventures vividly, and comes across as amazingly intrepid.  ‘The Golden Chersonese’ is her account of travels through the wilds of the Malaysian coast and jungle and rivals the escapades of many more well-known male twentieth century travellers…

I read travel writing as I don’t currently have the freedom or the time to travel as much as I’d like; I do find accounts from days when travel and exploration were serious and demanding enterprises much more interesting than most of what is currently written. There’s more of a sense of adventure, discovery and hardship, as well as curiosity, I think.  The world is so well-known and travelled nowadays that most writers seem already to take previous knowledge and perhaps previous judgements along with them.

There are lots more travel books waiting on my bookshelf.  Should you stumble across this blog and have anything to recommend, I’m interested.

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