Geoffrey Moorhouse: To The Frontier

July 17, 2014

9780753804780The frontier in question is, of course, the North West Frontier; Moorhouse travelled there in the early 1980s. I’d already been impressed with The Fearful Void, the tale of his encounter with the Sahara, and was looking forward to this: I wasn’t disappointed.

He travels from Karachi to Lahore, succeeds in visiting the Khyber Pass, and eventually ends up in the real wilds. He was travelling at an interesting time: the Soviet Union had recently entered Afghanistan to support its puppet regime and was becoming increasingly embroiled in warfare with the Afghans, and Pakistan was in a period of turmoil after the seizure of power by General Zia and his judicial execution of the previous Prime Minister. So, at the time one needed clear contextual background to the travels and the people he met, and this is even more the case, reading of his travels thirty years later. And this he does very well: the details and the complexities are clearly explained, not touched upon or glossed over as some writers nowadays do, and I was grateful for this, even though I can remember those events.

Moorhouse describes people, places and the journey clearly, in detail, and evokes a sense of atmosphere: he took me there, and I understood new things, which is surely the mark of a good travel writer.  He made sense for me of some of the complexities and grey areas of the regional history and politics. His visit to the Khyber Pass was particularly interesting; his sense of the past history of all the frontier places and how they fit into the stories of the British Empire allowed me to admire the courage and stamina of people involved, even if I did also think that their whole premise was bonkers. I think what I liked most of all was Moorhouse’s openness and honesty in his writing, and his ability to background himself: none of the tiresome ‘me, me, look at me!’ that has put me off quite a few recent writers.

I’ve noticed that there are quite a few more books by him to look out for as I trawl secondhand bookshops on my travels…

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