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A fascinating glimpse into the real life of Agatha Christie.
on 27 March 2002
I picked up this book following a visit to an exhibition in the British Museum about Christie's travels in the Middle East. My only contact with the writer before this was via the cosy middle-England dramatisations of her work that appear on television and I was rather more interested in the archaeology than Christie herself. This book blew away all my pre-conceptions. What I found in Christies descriptions of her journeys to modern-day Iraq - where she was accompanying her husband, the archeologist Max Mallowan, on his digs - was a woman, extremely happy in her surroundings who was fascinated by her husband's work and whose understanding of and concern for the local population was advanced even by today's standards. Her descriptions of the everyday struggle to make a life in an alien, and often harsh, environment are frank and frequently hilarious and her insights into the beliefs, particularly Islam, of the locals are couched without prejudice or condescension. I was half expecting the book to be full of the racist ravings of a typical English 'memsahib' but instead was delighted to discover in Agatha Christie, a humour and self-deprecation rare in female travellers of the time. The book contains a minimum of archeological information - just enough to set the scene - but even archaeology buffs would surely find the description of daily life on a pre-war dig of interest. The real value of this memoir, however, is in what it tells us about the character of Christie. I read a number of her novels after reading this book and found her, as an author of fiction, to be rather two-dimensional and unfulfilling. I've not changed my opinion about her novels but this doesn't detract from the fact that, after reading this little book, I really liked Agatha Christie as a person - which for some reason took me entirely by surprise. An absolute must for fans and non-fans alike.