Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it. For this reason your customary thoughts, all except the rarest of your friends, even most of your luggage--everything, in fact, which belongs to your everyday life, is merely a hindrance. The tourist travels in his own atmosphere like a snail in his shell and stands, as it were, on his own perambulating doorstep to look at the continents of the world. But if you discard all this, and sally forth with a leisurely and a blank mind, there is no knowing what may not happen to you.
    -Baghdad Sketches
It was this spirit of adventure, this eager embrace of the freedom afforded a traveler, and a pleasantly bemused writing style that made Freya Stark one of the most famous women in the world in the 1930s. Baghdad Sketches, her first book, collected the essays she wrote for the Baghdad Times between 1928 and 1932, as she traveled about Iraq, Kuwait, and Persia. This version includes later pieces, from up to about 1937.

As the quote above suggests, Ms Stark was accepting of what she found, but doesn't seem to have felt compelled to gloss things over. Here's a funny bit about the house she found in Baghdad, from a chapter titled "Concerning Smells":
Every house is built around a paved yard, large or small: in the middle of the yard is a trap-door, which does not usually fit extremely well: under that is a cistern where all the refuse waters go. The Sumerians used to bury their relatives under the dining-room floor close by, a thing which is no longer done.

My little court as time wore on seemed to smell more and more like a Sumerian ancestor.
She was also honest, even poignantly so, about herself:
There are ladies whose fascinations are a constant worry to them when they travel. The most unsophisticated savage appears to fall in love at first sight. The Desert Chief no sooner sees them than he wishes to carry them off. As for me, being small and plain and quite insignificant, such dangers do not trouble me: unflattering as it may be, I wander about the East without being incommoded at all.
What's also poignant here is how little hint there is of the Middle East's bloody future. Yes, many Iraqis seem to have disliked the British Government--which had defeated their Ottoman overlords there in WWI, but then stayed to govern--but Ms Stark seems to have met with little personal animus, despite being British, non-Muslim, and a woman. By the end of the book, when she travels to Tekrit, near where Saddam Hussein was born, that tyrant's shadow looms over the story and, though it is not the tone in which she wrote, her book becomes almost an elegy for a world long gone.


Grade: (A-)


Freya Stark Links:

    -OBIT: A CENTENARIAN DEPARTS (Andrew Rothovius, SEPTEMBER 2, 1993)
    -EXCERPT: from Valley of the Assassins: The old man of Kalardasht (Freya Stark, The Iranian)
    -ESSAY: Rome on the Euphrates: The Story of A Frontier (Freya Stark, Military Affairs)
    -ESSAY: In Southwestern Arabia in Wartime (Freya Stark, Geographical Review)
    -The Great Ones: Freya Stark (iExplore, History's Greatest Explorers)
    -Intrepid Adventurer Freya Stark (1893-1993) (Women's Stories)
-ESSAY: Shades Of Freya: A Memory Trip: In Damascus's Street Called Straight and in the territory of the Druze, tracking a dauntless woman (JANE FLETCHER GENIESSE, November 7, 1999, NY Times)
    -ARCHIVES: "freya stark" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Valley of the Assassins (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Valley of the Assassins By Freya Stark (The Heritage Society)
    -REVIEW: of Letters from Syria by Freya Stark (Margaret L. Johnston, International Affairs Review Supplement)
    -REVIEW: of The Arab Island: The Middle East, 1939-1943 by Freya Stark (E. A. Speiser, Political Science Quarterly)
    -REVIEW: of East Is West by Freya Stark (H. A. R. Gibb, International Affairs)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: : of Traveller's Prelude: Freya Stark (G. M. W., July 1954, Geographical Review)
    -REVIEW: of Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark by Jane Fletcher Geniesse (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Passionate Nomad (Colin Thubron, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Passionate Nomad (Claire Sprague, Radcliffe Quarterly)

Book-related and General Links:

    -PROFILE: Tales of the Tyrant: What does Saddam Hussein see in himself that no one else in the world seems to see? The answer is perhaps best revealed by the intimate details of the Iraqi leader's daily life (Mark Bowden, May 2002, The Atlantic)
    -ESSAY: Why Iraq Might Be a Better Candidate for Democracy than You Think (Eric Davis, History News Network)
    -ANALYSIS: How 3 Weeks of War in Iraq Looked From the Oval Office: The past 25 days have been among the most stressful of the second Bush White House, which had to react to the chaos of war and a script that kept changing. (New York Times, 4/14/03)
    -ESSAY: I was wrong, Iraqis want the war so they can be rid of Saddam. (Ken Joseph, April 08, 2003, Online Opinion)
    -ESSAY: It's Democracy, Like It or Not (TODD S. PURDUM, March 9, 2003, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Democracy by America (Daniel Drezner, 3/12/02, New Republic)
    Democracy Domino Theory 'Not Credible': A State Department report disputes Bush's claim that ousting Hussein will spur reforms in the Mideast, intelligence officials say. (Greg Miller, March 14, 2003, LA Times)
    -ESSAY: Deadlier Than War (Walter Russell Mead, March 12, 2003, Washington Post)
    Dreaming of Democracy (GEORGE PACKER, March 2, 2003, NY Times Magazine)
    -ESSAY: A Last Chance to Stop Iraq (KENNETH M. POLLACK, 2/21/03, NY Times)
    -Flashbacks: "Iraq Considered" (The Atlantic, October 1, 2002)
    Conflict with Iraq (BBC)
    -AlterNet Iraq Warlog
    Intervention in Iraq? (The Newshour, PBS)
    A Post-Saddam Scenario: Iraq could become America's primary staging ground in the Middle East. And the greatest beneficial effect could come next door, in Iran (Robert D. Kaplan, November 2002, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY: After Saddam: A leading Iraqi dissident maps out the form of a post-Saddam state-federal, demilitarised and non-Arab. His compatriots, he says, see military action by the US as the price to be paid for such a future ( Kanan Makiya, November 2002, The Prospect)
   -ESSAY: At Home Abroad: CAN THE IRAQI EXILES REMAKE IRAQ? (Jason Zengerle, 12.19.02, New Republic)
    -ESSAY: Saddam's Brain: The ideology behind the thuggery. (David Brooks, 11/11/2002, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: A Necessary War: Unless Saddam Hussein is removed, the war on terror will fail (Reuel Marc Gerecht, 10/21/2002, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: Baghgrad?: Removing Saddam from Baghdad (Victor Davis Hanson, November 22, 2002, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Democracy in the Middle East: It's the hardheaded solution. (Victor Davis Hanson, 10/21/2002, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: Iraq's Crazy Uncle: Joel Soler's documentary looks at Saddam Hussein's foibles. (Rufus Jones, 11/19/2002, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: A Beautiful Friendship?: What France sees in Iraq. (Michel Gurfinkiel, 10/28/2002, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: From Belgrade to Baghdad: how the Serbs have been providing Iraq with military aid (Stephen Schwartz, 2nd November 2002, The Spectator)
    -ESSAY: SADDAM -- 'FATHER OF VICTORIES?' (Allan Ramsay, August 2000, Contemporary Review)
    -ESSAY: Iraq (Claudia Wright, April 1979, The Atlantic Monthly)
    SADDAM IS A REAL THREAT: Continuing our debate on Iraq, PETER DAVID argues that Saddam's record demolishes Saul Landau's position. (Open Democracy)
    IRAQIS PLAN A POST-SADDAM FUTURE: Can a meeting of 'Free Iraqis' in London succeed where so many have failed, asks GHASSAN ATIYYAH. (Open Democracy)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Con Coughlin: Saddam: King of Terror (Diane Rehm Show, November 12, 2002, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Saddam: King of Terror By Con Coughlin (Steve Kettmann, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Saddam: King of Terror by Con Coughlin (Jeff Stein, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of THE RECKONING: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein. By Sandra Mackey (Fouad Ajami, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Terror on the Tigris: War should only be waged as a last resort. Two new books on Iraq argue that, for America, the last resort is now: The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq By Kenneth M. Pollack. and Saddam: King of Terror By Con Coughlin (The Economist)
    -REVIEW: of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, by Kenneth M. Pollack (Tish Durkin , NY Observer)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Should we go to war just because we can?: Andrew Cockburn on Saddam Hussein and the rush to war. (Andrew Cockburn, November 3 2002, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Greatest Threat: Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the Crisis of Global Security. By Richard Butler (Barbara Crossette, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein By Andrew Cockburn and Patrick Cockburn (Ethan Bronner, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Out of the Ashes (John Casey, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of SADDAM'S BOMBMAKER: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda By Khidhir Hamza with Jeff Stein (Barbara Crossette, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem -- Once and for All By Scott Ritter (Tim Weiner, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: IRAQ: THE RISE AND FALL OF CIVIL SOCIETY: Is a democratic Iraq possible? (SAMI ZUBAIDA, February 2003, Open Democracy)
    -ESSAY: JOURNEY TO A LIBERATED IRAQ: As the noose tightens around the Saddam regime, TAMARA CHALABI vividly describes the visit of an Iraqi opposition delegation to Iran- and across the mountains to their homeland. (Tamara Chalabi, February 2003, Open Democracy)
    -ESSAY: WAITING: For Iraqi opposition and Kurdish groups across the border in Iran, this is a moment of paralysis as well as excitement (WENDELL STEAVENSON, February 2003, Open Democracy)

   -Kurdish News in World Media
    -ESSAY: Sons of Devils: In a turbulent region the stateless Kurds play the role of spoiler (Robert D. Kaplan, November 1987, The Atlantic)
    BETWEEN FEAR AND HOPE IN KURDISTAN: Kurds in northern Iraq survive precarious freedom in sight of Saddam's guns, observes WENDELL STEAVENSON. (Open Democracy)
    -ESSAY: After Saddam Hussein: The Kurds have set up a cohesive administration in northern Iraq, but the UN embargo is an unnecessary thorn in their daily life -- and counterproductive to the aim of upsetting the Baghdad regime (Laurie Mylroie, December 1992, The Atlantic)
    -ESSAY : Protect the Kurds (Peter W. Galbraith, August 11, 2002, Washington Post)
    -ESSAY : A Moment of Decision for Iraq's Kurds : Northern Iraq Between Boom Times and Danger (Amalia van Gent, 8/06/02, NZZ Online)
   -ARTICLE: Forced to Move, Kurds Hope for Hussein's Ouster (JOHN F. BURNS, August 11, 2002, NY Times)
   -ARTICLE: Iraqi Kurdish leader hopeful of anti-Saddam front (AP, 8/07/02)
   -ARTICLE: We won't help U.S., Kurds say (Richard Sisk, NY Daily News)
   -ARTICLE: Saddam wants Kurds neutral (John Diamond, 8/05/02, USA TODAY)
   -ARTICLE: Kurdish guerrillas poised to fire first shots in war on Iraq : Tim Judah in northern Iraq meets enemies of Saddam who seek to crush Islamist militants with suspected links to al-Qaeda (Tim Judah, August 11, 2002, Observer)
   -ARTICLE: A Microcosm of Terror in a Torn Kurdish City (JOHN F. BURNS, August 3, 2002, NY Times)
   -ARTICLE: Kurds Savor a New, and Endangered, Golden Age (JOHN F. BURNS, July 28, 2002, NY Times)
   -ARTICLE: Iraqi Kurds fear Islamic militant group (Jim Muir, 24 July, 2002, BBC)
   -ARTICLE: Iraq's Kurds assess risk of backing the US : Supporting Washington's plans could jeopardise precious gains (Michael Howard, July 18, 2002, The Guardian)
   -ARTICLE: Iraqi Kurds cautious on new US war (Hiwa Osman, 26 March, 2002, BBC)
    -REVIEW: of AFTER SUCH KNOWLEDGE, WHAT FORGIVENESS?: My Encounters With Kurdistan by Jonathan C. Randal (CHRIS HEDGES, NY Times Book Review)