Posts Tagged ‘Travel Literature’


The Travels of Ibn Battutah by Ibn Battuta

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


In contrast to the numerous modern travel books which seem to focus on the ‘personality’ of the writer or trivial observations, this is an epic in every sense of the word. The scale of the journey is immense in distance and time, IB stayed to work as a Qadi (judge)in several places along the way, this means that you really get a deep sense of the politics and the people in each destination. This depth is unlike some of the more superficial accounts of present books which rely on novelty and humour. Although travels is not without humour itself.

I like travelling and read travel books frequently, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed the descriptions of distant lands and strange customs, however, the biggest surprise for me was the journey into the Islamic culture and lifestyle. I think it’s the first account I have read from an Islamic perspective, and a Medieval one at that. With this in mind I think this is a perfect book to open the mind about other cultures and other ways of seeing the world. To get the most from this journey it is important to read ‘Travels with a Tangerine’ and ‘Hall of a Thousand Columns’ By Mackintosh-Smith.

I hope this reworked classic inspires other translators and archivists to unearth other works from centuries gone. On a final note I am deeply envious of anyone who understands Arabic as they can read the original.



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Title: The Road to Oxiana

Author: Robert Byron

Genre: Classic Travel Literature

Lazy cliche: …Indiana Jones meets Noel Coward in exotic Central Asia

Byron set out to investigate and explore Islāmic architecture but he found himself doing far more. I don’t doubt his interest and knowledge on the initial subject matter, but I feel it was mainly an excuse to express his unique perspective on all manner of things.
The narrative takes in the people and places surrounding his quirky quest from Persia through to the Oxiana river in Turkestan (present day Afghanistan I think). There is a vast cast of characters breezing in and out of the pages which gives it a real Jazz-age feel. This style is of its time and takes a while for the modern reader to be acquainted with the fractured descriptions. Once you get past this whimsical style, the book rewards you with some pretty lyrical descriptions of far-flung places. The undertone of  dry humour and numerous witty asides make it very entertaining and enjoyable to read. Byron is at his best when recounting his rakish behaviour e.g – passing himself off as Muslim to enter a Mosque, he is also a master at recording and mocking numerous eccentric conversations.
This book is not really for a general readership;  if you enjoy those ‘picking-olive-blossoms-in-the-Tuscan-breeze’ type books you may not get into this. If you like well written classics from the Imperial past like Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene etc you will love this book.

 

When I lived in Manchester I used to cycle and walk everyday. On weekdays I dodged the insane buses on what I still believe is the busiest bus route in Europe – Oxford Road. On weekends I had a more leisurely pace and just cycled past any places that interested me. One of the places I went past was the Armenian Church in Ardwick, it’s round the corner from the Turkish Baths which won the Restoration programme’s vote on that BBC show. If you know your history then you will realise the ultimate irony of being round the corner from a Turkish place, many Armenians left their homes due to the Turks. Seeing this Church with its mystical looking alphabet filled me with curiosity about a place I knew nothing. It was with this in mind that I searched and found one of my favourite books and subsequently, one of my favourite authors.

From any perspective Armenia is one of the most interesting places on earth. The first Christian state, sight of Eden or resting place of Noah’s Ark. The problem is, few people actually know this. Luckily Phillip Marsden took the trouble to enlighten us by learning Armenian in Jerusalem and visiting members of the Armenian Diaspora (often by complete chance). I have rarely read a travel book that tackles so many important subjects without being crushed by it’s own weight. The author succeeds in being engaging without losing the complexity and academic weight of the subject. Marsden develops a real affinity for all things Armenian but always remains objective and critical. The book’s greatest asset, and the main reason why I chose to recommend it, is the fact that it is like a biography of a place and it’s people all rolled into one. If you want to find out a little more without reading the book click below:

http://www.manchester.gov.uk/info/448/archives_and_local_studies/506/multi-cultural_manchester/8

http://www.armenianchurchmanchester.org/

Epic Travel, Islamic Style

In contrast to the numerous modern travel books which seem to focus on the ‘personality’ of the writer or trivial observations, this is an epic in every sense of the word. The scale of the journey is immense in both distance and time, IB stayed to work as a Qadi (Islamic Judge)in several places along the way, this means that you really get a deep sense of the politics and the people in each destination. This depth is unlike some of the more superficial accounts of present books which rely on novelty and humour. Although the travels is not without humour itself.
I like travelling and read travel books frequently, so it’s no suprise that I enjoyed the descriptions of distant lands and strange customs. However, the biggest suprise for me was the journey into the Islamic culture and lifestyle. I think it’s the first account I have read from an Islamic perspective, and a Medieval one at that. With this in mind I think this is a perfect book to open the mind about other cultures and other ways of seeing the world. To get the most from this journey it is important to read ‘Travels with a Tangerine’ and ‘Hall of a Thousand Columns’ By Mackintosh-Smith in which the modern scholar traces the original journey of Battutah.
I hope this reworked classic inspires other translators and archivists to unearth other works from centuries gone. On a final note I am deeply envious of anyone who understands Arabic as they can read the original.

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