Learn more Download now Shop now Browse your favorite restaurants Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Amazon Music Unlimited for Family Shop now Shop now Learn more

Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
The Road to Oxiana (Penguin Classics)
Format: Paperback|Change
Price:£8.78+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime

on 15 September 2010
This is a wonderful work, well worthy of the full five stars.

Byron's work concerns his travels around the near east and further afield into Persia (as was) and Afghanistan in search of the true origns of Islamic art and architecture. He is keen to seek out what he sees as the more tasteful genuine article, as opposed to the more overwrought, sentimental, Alhambra-like architecture so beloved of those he dismisses as the "Omar Khayam brigade".

In this respect, Byron's work is firmly in the tradition of other scholar-traveller-writers like John Ruskin. As with a book like the latter's "The Stones of Venice", you will find a lot of meticulous and learned descriptions of the buildings that Byron saw along the way. I found myself re-reading a lot of these descriptive passages, since Byron's descriptions are so careful and evocative that it really is possible to picture in your mind's eye what he saw. This is a very welcome feature of the book for me, since with a young family and the political situation being what it is, I am unlikely to be following Byron's footsteps into Iran or Afghanistan anytime soon!

However, it's not just a digest of architectural wonders. The journey through these lands is just as important to this book. Having now read "The Road to Oxiana" I can clearly see why so many respected writers (Chatwin, Leigh Fermor et al) swear by it and why, in its way, the book initiated a quiet revolution in travel writing. It is written in diary form, and his personalised account of his travels and travails is very entertaining. His description of the journey with its mixture of fun and mishaps along the way serve to keep the narrative moving and to frame his descriptions of the art and architecture he goes in search of. In some passages Byron comes across as both adventurer AND aesthete, entertaining us to descriptions of his often difficult journies to some sites, and then treating us to a vivid description of what he saw when he got there.

If there is a drawback then it is, as Colin Thubron is careful to note in his informative introduction, Byron's stiff and superior attitude to some of the people he encounters. To be frank, he comes across as a sneering toff more than once. Then again, those were the prevailing attitudes at the time in the 30's when Britain was still a colonial power, so you just have to shrug them off. These are lapses into small mindedness and don't detract from the whole, however. What shines out from this book is Byron's irrepressible spirit and his sheer delight in both the countries he travelled in and the Islamic art he found there.
0Comment| 21 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 2 August 2013
It does not matter which book I pick for reading, Alexander is always in the back of my mind. This is also the case when I hold The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron were it only because Alexander the Great spent nearly three years of his short life in Oxiana, corresponding more or less to today's Afghanistan.

Robert Byron travels from Venice, via Jerusalem, Damascus and Bagdad (Iraq) to Persia in 1933 and finally reaches Afghanistan in 1934, keeping a detailed diary of his journey. In those days the King of England, George V, was still emperor of India; Afghanistan was ruled by King Nadir Shah who was assassinated in November 1933 to be succeeded by his 19 years-old son Zahir Shah; the Imperial State of Persia was governed by Reza Shah Pahlavi; meaning that the reader gets a good picture of the peculiar background against which the story evolves.

What captivates me especially is the fact that part of the roads correspond exactly to those followed by Alexander some 2,000 years earlier. The landscape is a commanding factor in antiquity as well as today and the obvious itineraries always follow the same rivers, oasis and towns, skirting the same deserts and mountains, using the same passes and goat-tracks.

Byron is mostly interested in Islamic art and evidently he finds lots of examples along his journey, giving very detailed and lively descriptions, especially in Persia and later in Afghanistan. He often is not allowed to take pictures, so he makes drawings. The way he writes, however, corresponds in a way to drawing with words, stopping at the many discussions with officials as he moves from one stop to the next, generally by lorry but also by car or on horseback. Old caravanserais are still used when there is no local governor or friendly Brit around to offer him a room to spend the night and he relates all the folklore details of such encounters.

This book is extremely interesting from different points of view, either for its detailed Islamic architecture and art, or for daily life in that part of the Middle East in the early twentieth century. So in the end, I read it twice as after these most evident reasons I went in search of landscapes and cities which Alexander most probably encountered in places like Ecbatana, Persepolis, Pasargadae, Balkh, Kabul and Peshawar, crossing the Elbruz Mountains towards the Caspian Sea or his perilous march over the famous Khyber Pass of the Hindu Kush. Lots of pertinent information for whoever wants to take a closer look!
0Comment| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 20 February 2017
A diary of travel experiences from Cyprus to India mainly focusing on Afghanistan and Persia. The book deals with the challenges of travel, Islamic architecture and observations of contemporary Afghanistan and Persia.

It is written in diary form and so it is easy to read and progresses at a fairly rapid pace.

I found the daily travel incidents most entertaining. Truck accidents, waiting for rains to stop, negotiating travel permits all lubricated with whatever wine Byron can get his hands on along the way.

The descriptions of architecture I found hard to follow without pictures and so I often referred to the internet to take a look myself. The maps are pretty basic and provide little help on understanding the route taken.

Sometimes the book gets a bit repetitive; rain, argument with local, minaret description, distain at attempts at modernisation, waiting for truck, road closed, scarcity or quality of wine, snigger at other Europeans, rain… But the quality of the writing is always engaging.

I did wonder why this book got Penguin Classic status, it is good but I would see it more as a Modern Classic work.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 7 April 2014
The extraordinarily laid back travel arrangements and the resulting fascinating - but often very problematic progress provides glimpses of an area which is highly topical today. The political changes since the 1030s have ensured that we are looking at governance and dynamics of a world that no loger exists. The Empire and it's influence and reach were still very much a fact of life. National characteristics however, are not so much prone to change and Iran, Afghanistan and the adjoining areas are still inhabited by people recognisable as the heirs to Byron's contacts 80 years ago. The occasional muddled handling of continuity is a slight irritant; a better editor would surely have smoothed these out.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 8 March 2014
It's easy to see why this has endured as a remarkable record of a journey made at a time when road travel was far from easy, and the politics of the area - Persia/Afghanistan - always problematic. The lengthy and comprehensive descriptions of the architecture/archaeology of the region may not be for everyone, but the richness and originality of description of colour and form keep the lay reader interested.

Byron's acid tongue provides some moments of great humour when he encounters pompous or self-important individuals, and his calm response to dangerous and uncomfortable circumstances earns the reader's admiration.

His understanding of the social and political issues in the region he travels through is valuable for the modern reader in understanding current issues in that region.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 30 May 2015
This book is of its time and sits at times uncomfortably with modern sensibilities, but is not to be dismissed. Robert Byron writes with great sensitivity about art and architecture in places that sadly are almost impossible to visit now. There is humour and honesty in his writing which I could appreciate.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 9 February 2015
Brilliantly written, observant of places and people and unexpectedly funny. I drove through some the towns in northern Iran and across Afghanistan in 1966 but didn't see all the architectural gems; this book confirms what I missed, which was a lot and is wonderfully described. His style reminds me of Evelyn Waugh; he gives you the complete picture, warts and all.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 11 December 2016
A gem. The variety of descriptors and registers, the wealth of detail and the imagination it inspires make this essential reading for anyone interested in Asia in general and Islamic and pre-Islamic culture as well as insights into Persia at the beginning of its modernisation. "Geranium red" is a new but very real name for a colour.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 8 February 2015
Very well written and with some very funny observations , but without illustrations or photos - at least in the kindle edition - of the buildings the author lovingly describes all the detailed description of the architecture in Iran and Afghanistan is rather heavy going and of interest only to specialists.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 16 March 2017
An unusual book. More of interst to a student of architecture.. It holds a certain degree of interst, but one can get lost in the technicalities.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)