This book is, by our standards, ancient history as far as travel narrative goes. Written by Robert Byron in the 1930’s (he died way too young during WWII), it is the story of his travels in Afghanistan, Pakistan (before it existed), India, Iraq and Iran, Oxiana being a section of Iran.
Much of what he saw no longer exists, so his pictures are invaluable. He was a great descriptor of buildings and landscapes, and a keen observer of persons and cultures. So much so that Rory Stewart, one of the great cultural narrative writers of our time, wrote the new Preface. (Check out Rory’s Prince of the Marshes if you want to understand Iraq.)
I read this book slowly, savoring the pictures and stories of each town as he traveled through it, his encounters with the high and low of each area. And his often hilarious descriptions of keeping motor vehicles going in these territories at that time. One thing we learn is that bureaucracies do not change. They have different department names in different countries, but the ability of a bureaucracy to make the simple difficult spans a lot of the globe and many generations.
So if you’re looking for a book to savor – and winter is coming, a good time for that – give yourself this book for one of your holiday presents.