on 4 April 2001
Maxwell's description of a life now gone forever by the political situation in southern Iraq. This book reads as perhaps, a little warmer than the 'bright water' series. His affinity with the Marsh Arabs shines throught as does his respect of their traditions. Written more than 40 years ago, there is little hint of the troubles to come for the region. Indeed, Maxwell hints that the biggest threat would be general encroahment by the 20th century, if obnly he had known. The book is notable for introducing the reader to the subject that came to dominate Maxwell's life and thus enrapture millions - otters. The book is a must for fans of Maxwell's writing and is an invaluable prequel to "Ring Of Bright Water".
on 31 May 2013
Thoroughly enjoyed reading Maxwell's account of his travels amongst the marsh Arabs of Southern Iraq. Maxwell's description of the physical terrain, and the animals and people who inhabit it, is simply spell-binding. Very sad to think that it has all been destroyed by the likes of Saddam Hussein. Would have been truly wonderful to have enjoyed the experience that Gavin Maxwell had there at the time. As a bonus Maxwell got to travel through the marshes with the doyen of explorers Wilfred Thesiger. They formed an effective if contrasting combination and their travelling relationship provides an interesting sub-text to the overall journey. If you get the chance to read this book take it..
on 4 February 2011
It is sad but inevitable that Gavin Maxwell should be best remembered for the otter trilogy and his multi-million best seller 'Ring of Bright Water'. Sad because excellent though the 'Ring' is, it depicts only a fraction of Maxwell's abilities and interests. Those who have read Douglas Botting's superlative biography, 'Gavin Maxwell - A Life' will know that there was so much more to Maxwell than the otter-loving Scottish recluse. 'A Reed Shaken by the Wind' was only his second book of the twelve he would eventually write. It is autobiographical only in so far as it records his expedition to the Tigris marshes with Wilfred Thesiger; it reveals little of the inner man. But it does vividly demonstrate his skill as an emerging travel writer and an objective geographer and student of third world cultures, for which, of course, he was to win the Heinemann Literary Award.
The book is moving, sensitive and inevitably dated. Events have tragically overtaken the marsh arabs in recent decades, but it stands as an accurate and authoratitive account of a lost world. Interestingly, Thesiger was furious that Maxwell wrote this book and won awards for it. It cooled their friendship for thirty years, but in the fullness of time Thesiger made up for it by publishing his own opus magnus 'The Marsh Arabs', which was to win him accliam all of own as the greated arabist excplorer of the post war period.
The first work I have read by Gavin Maxwell, whom I always equated with Scotland and otters; in this account of his time spent with the Marsh Arabs of Iraq (1956), he tells of his first encounters with the animal, in the reedy waterways by the Tigris - and of his discovery of an otter species which was named after him.
But the main part of this work is of the place and the people, as he accompanies experienced adventurer, Wilfred Thesiger, in a reed canoe. staying in the reed homes of local sheikhs, he describes the villages, where each house is 'a tiny island of its own...we could see through their slit doors to firelit interiors where buffaloes shared their warmth with the human family. Not galleons perhaps, but Noah's Arks.'
We read of the huge bird life, the turtles, fish ...and huge numbers of wild pigs, the hunting of which occupies the locals - not for food, but to keep down the numbers of a fierce creature. And of local life - dances, disease, generosity and dishonesty...
Quite poetic at times, Maxwell describes a world which was to practically disappear under Saddam's rule, with the construction of canals - but is now being restored by ecologists.
on 5 September 2013
Beautiful, observant, poetic. I was totally captivated by the description of a very different culture. The photographs emphasize just how large the big reed huts were, but also how constrained the living conditions were.