Posts Tagged ‘Freya Stark’

Freya Stark: Ionia

October 16, 2014

9781848851917I’ve usually enjoyed reading Freya Stark’s travel writings: she travelled widely a long time ago, and she wrote knowledgeably and intelligently about the places she visited. However, I was disappointed in this book for a number of reasons. The map is poor; very small and hard to decipher, with ancient Greek and modern Turkish names almost on top of each other and rather hard to tell apart, too. On the other hand, Stark’s many atmospheric black and white photographs from sixty years ago are very good, giving a clear sense of all the remains and ruins half-buried and forgotten in long-abandoned places.

What doesn’t work is because Stark tries to do too much in this book, in which she visits many ancient Greek towns and other sites in what used to be called Asia Minor, in fact the western coastal regions of present-day Turkey. She tries to tell us all about Greek history, in far too much detail: there are too many names and dates and digressions and quotations from Greek authors – and in a previous existence I studied Ancient History at school. So the sympathetic portrait of Asia Minor and its current inhabitants, and the lyrical descriptions of the decaying remains of ancient civilisations are swamped by information which we cannot process, lacking much of the context. She attempts to set the scene in her introduction, but sadly that was not a lot of help.

I hadn’t really realised how far Greek settlements had spread, or how many traces still remained today in far-flung and abandoned places, overgrown by vegetation and plundered over the centuries by locals in need of building materials; I had some picture of the intermingling of Greek and Turk populations until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the First World War led to ethnic cleansing and the creation of the new Turkish state. And although Turkey is an Islamic nation, and has been for centuries, many of the Greek settlements she describes were where Christianity first established itself after the journeys of St Paul; many of the apocryphal epistles of New Testament times were addressed to communities in Asia Minor. So it was potentially a fascinating read, but didn’t really meet my expectations.

Freya Stark: The Minaret of Djam

January 5, 2014

517TEGVnowL._AA160_Freya Stark travelled through Afghanistan in 1968, at the age of 75; she describes a harshly beautiful country, backward in many ways, but with friendly people, and at peace… for these were the days before the Russians decided to interfere and began to wreck the country, before the Taliban took a brief grip and tried to move the clock back, before the US and the UK decided to invade and make the country democratic… it made me very sad, really. The most precious thing one can have is to live in peace, and to be able to raise one’s children in peace.

Stark writes well, and reflects deeply on what she sees and hears; there are many photographs, though overexposed in the reproduction, and the map is not terribly helpful, but this was a marvellous glimpse into the time machine of days and places lost and forgotten.

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