Friday, September 6, 2013

Book review: "The Valleys of the Assassins"

I found this book disappointing, especially considering that some call it a classic.

Freya Stark traveled among the remote valleys of western Persia (today's Iran) in the early 1930s, when this area was barely known and rarely visited by Europeans. (Actually, it's not much better known today.)

But while her travels may have been pioneering, this account is surprisingly dull and mundane. Stark travels from village to village, briefly meeting the locals, eats a meal or two, then goes on the next day to repeat the process. There's rarely a spark of excitement or adventure just a dry recording of events and observations.

Stark's aloof writing style doesn't help. She keeps the reader at arm's length from the characters she meets, offering just a superficial look at most of them.

The first half of the book is further handicapped by a lack of maps. As Stark travels about, she casually rattles off the names of landmarks and places as if the reader were intimately acquainted with the area. In fact, frustrated readers will soon discover that it is impossible to tell whether she is traveling east, west, north or south or just wandering in circles.

The second half of the book has three maps, which helps, although you'll need a magnifying glass to read one of them.

I don't want to make it sound like there is nothing interesting in this book. There are a few tense encounters, and occasionally she shows off a dry wit. But these are too few and far between. I can only recommend this book to someone who has a scholarly interest in this region of Iran.


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