Customer Review

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A man that travelled for all the right reasons, 21 Aug 2011
This review is from: The Road to Oxiana (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The Road to Oxiana is a heady mix of travelogue, history and... a semi-academic discourse on architectural aesthetics.
OK, so I have to admit that, at very first, the passages on architecture are a very slight chore to read, but Byron's child-like enthusiasm for his subject swept me along until, quite soon, I found myself excited every time a new Kufic script appeared through the throng of the bazaar, or when the author discovers an early example of the squinch.

Squinch?

Before, I had no idea what a squinch even was... and now I notice them supporting London churches and art galleries. Byron artfully and poignantly indicates yet another aspect of the legacy that early Islam and the "Orient" have left for the world; a legacy that is perhaps overlooked.

More importantly, this ability to captivate the reader, irrespective of subject matter, is evidence of a great writer at work. Towards the final pages (tinged with irony and sadness) I felt an uneasy feeling that I was about to say goodbye to a good and interesting friend with whom I had shared an adventure. Byron is foremost an honest writer - there is no self-consciousness of technique here, or contrived attempts to excite. Subtlety most definitely wins the day.

And yes... perhaps he does complain at one point of not having a servant to brew his tea (although I don't remember that bit); and yes, he travels across Asia predominantly by car and truck, but - and you may differ here - I'm not automatically endeared to a travel book by an author having walked through a country (perhaps with an adorable, unexpected mascot thrown in for good measure). I'm not automatically endeared to a travel book by an author having kayaked along the Amazon with a toothpick. Yes, that's potentially very impressive, in the same way as a friend asking to be sponsored for an upcoming marathon, but it doesn't guarantee good literature.

Byron's main aim is to trace Islam's aesthetic legacy, and he does this by whatever means he can. He takes a truck across the Hindu Kush because that's what the Afghans do! He rode horses in north-western Persia (and parts of Afghanistan) because there were no roads! Again, this is a delightful illustration of his lack of pretension.

In Byron's own words:

"I wish I were rich enough to endow a prize for the sensible traveller; 10, 000 for the first man to cover Marco Polo's outward route reading three fresh books a week, and another 10, 000 if he drinks a bottle of wine a day as well. That man might tell one something about the journey. He might or might not be naturally observant. But at least he would use what eyes he had, and would not think it necessary to dress up the result in thrills that never happened and science no deeper than its own jargon."

I sincerely wish he had survived long enough to achieve his ambition. All in all, a dream of a book.
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