Book Title: The Valley of the Assassins And Other Persian Travels
Author: Freya Stark
Promotional Blurb: Hailed as a classic upon its first publication in 1934, The Valleys of the Assassins firmly established Freya Stark as one of her generation’s most intrepid explorers. The book chronicles her travels into Luristan, the mountainous terrain nestled between Iraq and present-day Iran, often with only a single guide and on a shoestring budget.
Stark writes engagingly of the nomadic peoples who inhabit the region’s valleys and brings to life the stories of the ancient kingdoms of the Middle East, including that of the Lords of Alamut, a band of hashish-eating terrorists whose stronghold in the Elburz Mountains Stark was the first to document for the Royal Geographical Society.
Her account is at once a highly readable travel narrative and a richly drawn, sympathetic portrait of a people told from their own compelling point of view. Source
My Thoughts: This is a very interesting read, but not an easy one. I struggled with her very formal writing style and language. I guess that is to be expected from an upper-class English woman in the 1930s. Not that her tone is pompous, but at times it does come across as a little condescending and patronising towards the ‘natives’.
Having said that I give her full marks for sheer bravado. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to plan AND undertake the journeys that she did through very remote lands in the 1920s and 1930s. Add to that the fact that she was a woman, and of very low perceived value in the Middle Eastern society at that time, means that she would have been unfairly judged before she even opened her mouth or had a chance to prove herself as an intellectual equal.
To give me a bit more context, it would have been handy to have a few more detailed maps, other than just the small one in the front of the book. I am the sort of reader who likes to create my own mind pictures, but also understand where the adventure fits into the overall geography. Some images/photographs would have enhanced the story even more. Perhaps they have been lost to time or were not a priority for her.
If you enjoy reading about the Middle East and have a penchant for history, then this a good book to add to the pile next to your bed. I gave it 7/10.
Author bio: Dame Freya Madeline Stark DBE (31 January 1893 – 9 May 1993), was an Anglo-Italian explorer and travel writer. She wrote more than two dozen books on her travels in the Middle East and Afghanistan as well as several autobiographical works and essays. She was one of the first non-Arabs to travel through the southern Arabian Desert.
For her ninth birthday, Freya received a copy of One Thousand and One Nights, and became fascinated with the Orient. She was often ill while young and confined to the house, so she found an outlet in reading.
When she was thirty years old, Freya chose to study languages in university. She hoped to escape her difficult life as a flower farmer in northern Italy. Her professor suggested that she studied Icelandic, but she chose to study Arabic and later Persian.
She was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 1972 New Year’s Honours. She died at Asolo, Italy on 9 May 1993, a few months after her hundredth birthday. Source
Author blog or website: not found
Published: First edition, 1934
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Available from: Book Depository (from $24.74)
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