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4.6 out of 5 stars
Come, Tell Me How You Live: An Archaeological Memoir
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51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
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.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2002
Using an unusual style for the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie records the daily life of a wife accompanying her archeologist husband while he is working in Syria. Intended as a description for her friends and family, Christie gives a light-hearted memoir of her unusual life in the desert, working daily with the local Arab people. She reveals a great deal of patience and tolerance for a life that must have had many difficulties. The account lacks vivid descriptions of the scenery and people, but does accurately portray the sense of fun of the Arab people. The language used is pure 30's, with references to 'gippy tummy' and the 'cruise department' in a London store, which is evocative of the era rather than irritating. Another surprise was that Christie had the ability to send herself up, particularly when it came to her need for 'OS' clothes.
It was not intended to be a great travel book, but it does reveal how the Middle East can get under the skin of a Westerner. This is a charming book which will strike a chord with anyone who has ever lived and worked in the Middle East.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 14 September 2009
Bear in mind this was originally written in the 1930s and published in 1946, so may feel dated to some but to me this is part of the charm. An interesting collection of characters between the pages, though not a great deal of archaeological detail, I enoyed reading this and finished it quickly. The individual characters are wonderful and the author is able to poke fun at herself at times as well. If you read Christie's biography, you may find there is more to read between the lines in her later relationship with her husband but would recommend this to anyone and I'm glad I bought it. Incidentally, Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody novels are very similar in feel - I wonder if she read this first . . . . . .
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 August 2011
I hadn't known before I read this book that Agatha Christie was married to a famous archaeologist. I'm unfamiliar with the subject, so the name Max Mallowan doesn't really mean much to me, but I was intrigued by the idea of reading about a dig in the 1930s through the eyes of a non-archaeologist, and this book didn't disappoint. Right from the first chapter, where Christie describes the trials of finding and purchasing appropriate clothing for an archaeologist's wife, there's evidence of humour and a light touch that shines through.

She lovingly describes the landscapes they travel through and the characters they encounter, from their enigmatic architect Mac to the Sheikh they borrow the land from to build a house, and with her tongue playfully in cheek as she does so. She sketches not only the travails of being married to an archaeologist (for example being told that the pattern on your dress is from a Mesopotamian fertility symbol) but also the people that make up their household and the the workforce and their attitudes to life and death.

It's obvious that Christie comes to love the country that she has been relocated to and her reluctance to leave it at the end, when storm clouds are very clearly gathering in Europe, is evident. Not a book to read if you want to learn about Mesopotamian history, but definitely one if you're interested in the region of the time and in a wonderfully personal memoir.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 September 2010
I can only agree with some of the previous reviews. Agatha Christie comes over as a genuinely interesting woman venturing in to desert areas with her husband and a few others and tells of her experiences very candidly but enjoyably and she obviously loved her trips the people and the unusual experiences. She came over as a very patient person but also a person travelling from Europe in the 1930s. I read it as we are travelling to Syria - but even if you have no plans to travel there, it s worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Agatha Christie wrote this charming memoir in answer to questions about what exactly she did, and how she lived, during trips to the Middle East with her archeologist husband Max Mallowan. Instantly you are struck by her humour and humility - the snobbish shop assistants she had to deal with when buying clothes for the more ample form, the fact that her husband scoffs at the amount of shoes she wants to take and yet needs to pack a 'million' books and the difficulties of travelling abroad. It is fair to say that Max is more concerned with finding a good place to dig; which needs local labour, a water supply and good finds. Comfort is low on the agenda and yet Agatha views it all with wry good humour. She paints a colourful portrait of those on the dig, the locals who work alongside and for them and the places themself.

Although it must have been difficult, at times, for Max Mallowan to have had such a successful and talented wife, it is fair to say that, in the Middle East, the European way of favouring women was tolerated with a certain amusement. Agatha remarks that a local Sheikh finds it almost unbelievable that women are served coffee, ahead of men. Another funny story is when a local Sheikh arrives to find Agatha completing the Times crossword. He asks Max indulgently whether his wife can read? Really, and can she write as well? How accomplished! If he only realised how very accomplished she was... I have loved Agatha Christie's novels since I was at school and how wonderful to read this memoir and realise that she was every bit as sweet and charming as I imagined her to be. This is a lovely read - not scholarly, but as though you were reading a long letter written by a friend. Christie is irreplaceable and this memoir helps explain why.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I am reading 'Come Tell Me How You Live' by Agatha Christie Mallowan.

In 1930 Agatha Christies married Max Mallowan a young archaeologist. According to the foreword by Jacquetta Hawkes 'Agatha did not see her own renown as any bar to sharing in her husband's work. From the first she took full part in every one of Max's excavations in Syria and Iraq.'

After the 2nd World War Agatha wrote: 'My thoughts turning more and more to those days spent in Syria, and at last I have felt impelled to get out my notes and rough diaries and complete what I had begun....For I love that gentle fertile country (Syria) and its simple people, who know how to laugh and enjoy life; who are idle and gay, and who have dignity, good manners, and a great sense of humour, and to whom death is not terrible.

'Inshallah, I shall go there again, and the things that I love shall not have perished from this earth...

Spring 1944.

Yet, seventy years late, moved to tears by her words in the knowledge of recent events in Syria, I ask myself if anything remains of the Syria she knew and loved.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Can't add much to previous reviews. For the lovers of travel literature (no only of archaeology) this book is a classic. It reminded me, in some way, The road to Oxiana, by Robert Byron. Agatha Christie shows she had the gift of the best writers: sensibility, she was very observant and had the finest british sense of humour.
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This account of Agatha Christie's other life as an archaeologist's wife is compeltely charming and quite fascinating. She describes the necessary planning, the pitfalls of being in the middle east, the staff difficulties and the wonderous treasures they find. She describes it all as an interested amateur, the perfect way for someone not familiar with the subject to be introduced to it. Being an experienced author she makes her account quite engrossing, and it is a very easy read. It's also a charming period piece. She laments the fact that she doesn't smoke (highly unfashionable at the time) and the difficulties in transport and communication belong to a different age. There are moments of humour ("but it is a dirty sheet") which had me laughing, and very poignant parts too - particularly towards the end with the mention of the then-current war. And I found the professional cat completely beguiling. A wonderful book, not just for AC fans, it would be fascinating even for people not interested in either the author or archaeology. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 September 2012
This book gives a fantastic insight into the real Agatha Christie, she had such a great sense of humour I laughed out loud many times. She was such a talented writer I felt I was there with her, perparing for the trip of a lifetime This is a must read for all Agatha Christie fans, you will enjoy this book so much
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