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Baghdad Sketches: Journeys Through Iraq

Freya Stark first journeyed to Iraq in 1927. Seven years after the establishment of the British Mandate, the modern state was in its infancy and worlds apart from the country it has since become. During her many years in Iraq, Freya Stark was witness to the rise and fall of the British involvement in the country as well as the early years of independence. Typically - and controversially - she chose to live outside the close-knit western expatriate scene and immersed herself in the way of life of ordinary Iraqis - living in the 'native' quarter of the city and spending time with its tribal sheikhs and leaders. Venturing out of Baghdad, she travelled to Mosul, Nineveh, Tikrit and Najaf, where she perceptively describes the millennia-old tensions between Sunni and Shi'a, time not having dissipated their hatred. In the 1940s she returned again, this time travelling south, to the Marsh Arabs, whose way of life has now all but disappeared; north into Kurdistan and later, Kuwait, in the days before the oil boom. Painting a portrait of both the political and social preoccupations of the day as exquisitely as she does the people and landscapes of Iraq, Baghdad Sketches is a remarkable portrait of the country as it once was. '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... ; ; ;

Freya Stark (1893-1993), 'the poet of travel', was the doyenne of Middle East travel writers. Her travels earned her the title of Dame and huge public acclaim. Her many, now classic, books include 'Traveller's Prelude', 'Ionia', 'The Southern Gates of Arabia', 'Alexander's Path', 'Dust in the Lion's Paw', 'East is West' and 'Valleys of the Assassins'.

Reviews:

'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

'Freya Stark remains unexcelled as an interpreter of brief encounters in wild regions against the backdrop of history.' - The Observer

 

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