The Lycian Shore: A Turkish Odyssey (Freya Stark Collection) Paperback – 30 Sep 2011
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'It's hard to think of a writer in the travel game who most closely demonstrates the merits of Flaubert's three rules for good writing: clarity, clarity and finally clarity. Re-reading her now, her restrained powers of description shine as brightly as they ever did, and they will continue to shine until the next Ice Age... Her books are more relevant than ever. Besides sheer enjoyment, one should read her for a fresh perspective on the intractable issues dogging Christian-Muslim relations. She was able to see both sides and what she found was similarity, not difference. The greatest woman traveller of the 20th century? I think so.' --Sara Wheeler, The Times
'It was rare to leave her company without feeling that the world was somehow larger and more promising. Her life was something of a work of art… The books in which she recorded her journeys were seductively individual… Nomad and social lioness, public servant and private essayist, emotional victim and mythmaker.' --Colin Thubron, NY Times
'Few writers have the capacity to do with words what Faberge could do with gems - to fashion them, without violating their quality. It is this extraordinary talent which sets Freya Stark apart from her fellow craftsman in the construction of books on travel.' --The Daily Telegraph
About the Author
Freya Stark (1893-1993), 'the poet of travel', was the doyenne of Middle East writers and one of the most courageous and adventurous female travellers in history. She explored Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Southern Arabia, where she became the first western woman to journey through the Hadhramaut. Usually solo, she ventured to places few Europeans had ever been. She received the title of Dame and her many, now classic, books include Travels in the Near East, A Winter in Arabia, The Southern Gates of Arabia, Alexander's Path, Dust in the Lion's Paw, East is West and Valleys of the Assassins. 'She has written the best travel books of her generation and her name will survive as an artist in prose.' - The Observer
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Quite interesting, but it lacks the flow of her earlier work.
The turmoil and displacement of the Second World War had largely subsided. Stark's travels in the Hadhramaut she had done solo. With the success of her earlier depictions of her travels, she obviously developed contacts in the British diplomatic corps, which she used both on this trip, as well as the one in Afghanistan. And it was a different era for the diplomats too. Instead of being barricaded against the population, their duties involved learning about, and traveling in the country. David Balfour was the Consular official stationed in Smyrna (modern day Izmir). For a couple of months they travelled, along with Balfour's wife, and the "native help," in a 30 ft. sloop, "the Elfin," along the coast. The title is a tad misleading, since Lycia itself is only the main protuberance on the southwestern shore, located between the island of Rhodes, and Antalya. Approximately three-fourths of the book concerns their coastal travels before they reach Lycia.
The true strength of this work is Stark's phenomenal knowledge of the ancient world. Though she will make references to other periods, for example, the Roman empire, as well as World War II, the vast majority of the historical references date from the 5th and 4th Century, B.C., from the Battle of Marathon to the partitioning of Alexander the Great's empire (there is an excellent, succinct appendix that covers key events during those two centuries.) She had read Xenophon, Thucydides, Plutarch, Livy, and numerous others, and had internalized the knowledge and can related it to a given place as though it had happened only yesterday. I disliked Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana (Penguin Classics) since he seemed oblivious to the present, and focused exclusively on the ancient world, going from "one pile of stones to another." Stark has that tendency too, but she clearly announces that this is her intention. On the other hand, she does relate interesting anecdotes concerning the present, including her visit to a monastery on Padmos, the school teacher who had never seen the ancient ruins in his village, and the Bedouin who still traveled along the coast (the latter was a big surprise to me.)
Speaking of the nomads, Stark says: "for the nomad dies in prison, and so does a man, in a world that he feels too small...Happiness, as I rode down towards the beach in the evening, seemed to me to belong to those three ages, ever with a growing awareness: to the nomad, whose infinity lies about him unquestioned; to the Aegean sailing without fear toward a yet undiscovered horizon; and to those, in the religions of our time, `whose service is perfect freedom' since they have seen their bars melted and infinity renewed." Stark continued to renew her infinity, all the way to 100.
As a final note, we had a dinner party last night, and one of the topics was the turmoil in the publishing industry, with the "harm" being done by, er...ah... the present site I'm reviewing on. Not surprisingly perhaps, I leaned in favor of the present site, for renewing and expanding the number of possibilities for a writer to reach a reading audience. Furthermore, like many other "elites," from Wall Street, to the leadership at various governmental agencies, I espoused the position that the big publishing houses have abdicated in their duties, particular by publishing numerous frauds, on which Love and Consequences: A Memoir of Hope and Survival is but one example. I'm happy to say that a wonderful counterpoint to my thesis is Tauris Parke, who deserves kudos to the second power, at least, for keeping Stark in print, and I look forward to the new editions being released over the next year or so. 5-stars for this one.
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