I can’t remember the last time a book hijacked my day. Middle school, maybe? That was quite some time ago. Once, shortly after we were married, my husband came home from work and we started reading The Last Battle together aloud. We didn’t stop until we’d finished it. But that was only one evening.
Nayeri’s memoir exerted its magnetism on me through multiple channels–my personal interest in Nayeri’s home country of Iran; the myths and legends he seeds throughout the narrative; and the meandering nature of the storytelling, enticing the reader on, if for no other reason than to find out, “Where is he going with this?”
A valuable companion to Olufsen’s personal works is the two-volume Exploring Central Asia, by Esther Fihl (University of Washington, 2010). Partially a commentary on Olufsen’s travels, the work is largely a photographic tour of the museum artifacts Olufsen brought back to Denmark (see Olaf Olufsen Part I for more about the mission). A text box on page 140 (Vol. 1) contains an interesting account from his previously unpublished writings of how he acquired artifacts from the bazaar in Bukhara with the help of one of the emir’s men.
Exploring Central Asia contains numerous vibrant color photos of household items, clothes, shoes, ornaments, jewelry, accessories, tools, and so forth, from various regions. The captions for many of these include excerpts from Olufsen’s writings, both published and unpublished, describing their use or manner of acquisition. Fihl reports that Olufsen was instructed not to return with worn or cast off items ( p. 138). Accordingly, many of the artifacts are gorgeously decorated and in excellent condition, especially considering they are more than one hundred years old (of course, they have spent their entire lives in a museum). Thus, they may not be representative of articles of everyday use, but they at least give one an idea of some of the handicrafts in circulation at the time. Continue reading
The title page of Ole Olufsen’s book identifies him as Professor and Secretary to the Royal Danish Geographical Society. He commanded Danish expeditions to Central Asia in 1896-97 and 1898-99. His personal account of these travels, The Emir of Bokhara and His Country, is one of the more readable and detailed volumes of its kind that I have perused. (See previous posts on 19th- and early 20th-century Central Asia travelogues.)
While exhibiting the Eurocentric biases exhibited by virtually all Western travelers of his time (OK–let’s be honest–we’re all a bit biased, even in these enlightened times!), Olufsen displays extensive knowledge of the area and gives evidence of having read all the relevant literature available in his day, dating back to ancient times. He possesses an impressive command of the topography and appears to have traversed much of it, though I’m not able to weigh in on his geographical accuracy. The edition of The Emir of Bokhara that I perused (William Heinemann, 1911) claimed to include a map, but I never located one (see part II of this post for more on that). Continue reading
As a woman traveling in Central Asia in the late 19th century, Meakim was able to access the world of women, which was largely inaccessible to the predominantly male travelers of the time.
Of course, the biases of her times are evident, i.e. in her extended discussion and generalizations regarding the beauty or lack thereof possessed by Central Asian women. Meakim’s book is not, nor is it intended to be, an authoritative or comprehensive description of Central Asia, but it does represent sights and ideas that a European traveler would have encountered in the region and thus serves a purpose for those interested in the area. Continue reading
I usually am not fond of travel writing, but I found Christopher Kremmer’s work more interesting than some others of that genre that I have encountered. Kremmer’s wry wit accounts for at least part of the entertainment value of The Carpet Wars, even eliciting a few chuckles, a somewhat rare occurrence. (Don’t analyze that last statement–it isn’t meant to indicate anything except my appreciation of Kremmer’s humor.) For example, Kremmer (who does not otherwise give any indication of being particularly religious) relates an incident in which he became exceedingly frustrated with an Afghan taxi driver:
My hand was lifting, drawn up by the power of a psychotic urge to batter him, when suddenly a loud voice rent the sky above the stranded car:
‘Leave him to me!’ cried the voice of the Almighty. ‘For he is a driver and they are a stiff-necked people.’
So I heeded the word of the Lord and let him be (346). Continue reading
The Bookseller of Kabul is an outsider’s perspective on the inside world of an Afghan family. Asne Seierstad lived with a family in Kabul—a bookseller’s family—in the spring of 2002, after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. This book is not so much about her experiences as about the family she lived with. Continue reading
In our first post concerning A Thousand Splendid Suns, we discussed the story in A Thousand Splendid Suns. This time we want to consider some of the stylistic techniques that contribute to the popularity of Hosseini’s works.
Hosseini’s books are not adventure novels, but the action rarely flags. We are introduced to the main character (Mariam) and one of the central conflicts (her perceived rejection by the world) in the opening pages, and Hosseini rarely stops for sensory details or historical background. But that is not to say that Hosseini skimps on descriptions. He identifies salient points with such skill that he conjures up images and evokes character traits in a few powerful words, without slacking the pace of the plot. And rather than moving back and forth between narrative and description, he interweaves the two, so that the action only breaks off when Hosseini shifts the scene to heighten suspense. (Daniel Mason uses a similar technique in The Piano Tuner, when he relays historical background to the reader in the form of letters and articles read by the main character, so that reader and protagonist learn together.) (Warning: Plot revelations ahead) Continue reading
We read A Thousand Splendid Suns in two days while on a mini vacation. We had anticipated a grim story, and our expectations were fulfilled. But we stayed glued to the book, in part because of Hosseini’s gripping story telling and in part because, judging from the conclusion of The Kite Runner, we anticipated a glimmer of light at some point. It finally dawned, but it was a long time coming.
Due to the length of our review, we thought it best to avoid overtaxing our readers and discuss Hosseini’s latest release in two separate posts. This post is concerned primarily with the content and story of A Thousand Splendid Suns, while the next one will address stylistic matters. (Warning: plot revelations ahead.) Continue reading
We frequently regret that the number of books in the world exceeds the time available for reading them. Even the count of volumes in English that we want to read is formidable, though significantly less. And, unlikely as it might seem considering their relative sparsity, we probably won’t even get around to reading all the good books in English on Central Asia. We recently discovered the four books below, each of which was, interestingly though perhaps irrelevantly, originally penned in a different language. Even though, for various reasons, we probably won’t read them anytime soon, we thought they might likewise have escaped the attention of others who share our interest in Central Asia and could profit from them. Continue reading