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"There's gold in them mountains.",
This review is from: Bread And Ashes: A Walk Through the Mountains of Georgia (Paperback)
I wish Tony Anderson had written more books of travel in under-described places. He may not have the acute observation of Colin Thubron when it comes to people, but his background knowledge of the Caucasus and its people more than compensates.
The gentle, self-deprecating humour is very welcome to those of us who struggle to absorb the tortuous Georgian names, and Anderson's discriptions of the mountains are 'so vivid that you can see and feel the landscapes' as the Independent says. That same review deserves to be quoted: 'When I finished Bread and Ashes -hanging on every word- I could have wished it twice as long.' I couldn't express it better.
Anderson clearly loves the Caucasus, and that endearment flows through the book. One rapidly realises what a goldmine of history the country is, as he indulges in the most fascinating excurces as background to the narrative. Blessed (or cursed) with a greater diversity of languages than anywhere outside New Guinea, these mountains are a museum of threatened tongues -many with extraordinary features, such as 8 genders or 80 consonants, but spoken by only a few hundred or a few thousand.
A brief history of the Chechens is another stimulating excursus, which illuminates what Anderson says about several of the mountain peoples South of the Caucasus: wild. The cultural richness of the region is not ignored, with descriptions and a few tantalising photos of C11th Georgian "Cathedrals". Perhaps most surprising, though, (apart from meeting a striped hyena on the road) is his account of a mini-empire that opted to become Jewish in the C6th, and successfully held the Arab invasion from crossing the Caucasus a century later.
Then there's the explanation of Jason's Golden Fleece....
The maps are far better than in most books of travel. But since much mention is made of his companion's photography, could we not have enjoyed twice as many photographs?
That somewhere so relatively near to Europe should have so many fascinating secrets is astonishing. Anderson's legacy is a burning desire to go and see these things for myself before the tourists do.