Friday, October 23, 2009

Dervla Murphy, Freya Stark

I've recently read two more books relating to intrepid women travellers. The first, Dervla
Murphy's Silverland, is her 21st book. It is about her winter journey through Siberia, with
side trips to Rostov on Don and stops in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Pretty impressive considering that Murphy is in her 70s and speaks only a smattering of Russian. As someone who has visited the main cities of Russia with only a smattering of the language, I am bowled over since I know how difficult even that is. And Murphy travels mainly by herself. In an earlier book she write about a summer trip through Siberia by bicycle, which was cut short by accidents.

The book details many encounters with both warm and surly locals and provides insight into the development of this remote region in the post-Soviet era. Unfortunately it also offers a lot
of information about the ecological devestation Russia is suffering, and the economic plight of many people there. I would not want to travel as rough as Murphy does, but my hat is off to her.

Another interesting read is a biography of Freya Stark called Passionate Nomad. Stark, who died in 1992 at 100, was a noted explorer of the Middle East in the interwar years and later.
She also travelled widely in India, Russia and elsewhere, wrote many books and went on lecture tours. I first came across her name in Lawrence Durrell's book Bitter Lemons (she was a friend of his) and glanced through some of her marvellous books about Arabia last time I was in the Reading Room at the British Museum (back in 2001, alas.)


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