on 4 October 2001
So much is yet to be written about this most sensitive of borders, currently the thin line between the West and its focus for the terrorist "enemy." Written in 1983, Moorhouse recounts his travels with a keen eye for detail. He manages to strike the balance between the chaotic and bizarre system of rules and etiquette in this part of the world, leading to an infuriating frustration, the moments of wry humour that arise as a result, an enlightening explanation of the political, social and cultural backdrop to his travels and the moments of sheer trepidation travelling in one of the most inhospitable and hostile routes in the world. It is a blend that is as compelling as it is diverse.
Amongst the highlights for me was Moorhouse's observations of what he called a "flirtation" on a train, Islamic style... The inherent foreignness of everyday normality is often brought into the foreground, whilst the ruggedness and timelessness of such hostile terrain provides the reader always with a sense of the bigger picture. Both are relayed with intelligence and honesty.
The focus of the book is the perilous Khyber Pass. Of course, he makes it, but of the helplessness and vulnerability of the Westerner making the journey in 1983, he remarks "... there was nothing that any authority could do to help you if you got on the wrong side of naturally belligerent men."
Moorhouse gets on the wrong side of no-one, least of all the reader. His very English love of cricket relieves the tension of many awkward moments, and the friendly, gentlemanly Test series between Pakistan and England, with all its twists and turns, underscores the main action.
I am re-reading this, and suddenly, the events of three weeks ago and their aftermath makes this an even more compelling experience than the first time. If you want something approaching an understanding of the ironies and paradoxes of the whole range of peoples in this part of the world (and believe me, they're a pretty diverse bunch) then give this a go yourself.
on 12 September 2013
Moorehouse achieves the impossible; he makes Pakistan dull. I had thought this was Alan Moorehead, who, among much else, wrote that sublime memoir A Late Education. Moorehouse is a product of the post-war who can write things like 'I was to discover in the next forty-five minutes that he had acquired quite a vocabulary of Teutonic curses during his sojourn in Wilhelmshaven, all of which were now fluently applied to his native land' (the sort of would-be jocular sentence one falls asleep in the middle of) followed shortly after by [a description of poached eggs] 'I was regarding a pair of solid white discs on my plate when my act of concentration was disturbed by..' Zzz. Sojourn? Teutonic?? Regarding??? Ha jolly ha. I plod on. Oy, it gets worse. 'As I slowly masticated the solidified products of these fowl..' Hilarious, these foreigners - and their hens! But not as hilarious as our pretensions. Beyond parody