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The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  729 Ratings  ·  69 Reviews
Hailed as a classic upon its first publication in 1934, The Valleys of the Assassins firmly established Freya Stark as one of her generation's most intrepid explorers. The book chronicles her travels into Luristan, the mountainous terrain nestled between Iraq and present-day Iran, often with only a single guide and on a shoestring budget.

Stark writes engagingly of the nom
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 24th 2001 by Modern Library (first published 1934)
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Freya Stark is a great name, a bare fertility though is not a complete description of her writing style which reminded me so strongly of Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon that I wondered, until I looked at the publication dates, if Stark's writings consciously or unconsciously had been used by West as a prose model.

There is however one important difference, West's account of a journey through Yugoslavia is tied together by her thesis that the virility of the Serbs and their self-concept
"Solitude, I reflected, is the one deep necessity of the human spirit to which adequate recognition is never given in our codes. It is looked upon as a discipline or a penance, but hardly ever as the indispensable, pleasant ingredient it is to ordinary life, and from this want of recognition come half our domestic problems. The fear of an unbroken tête-à-tête for the rest of his life should, you would think, prevent any man from getting married. (Women are not so much affected, since they can us ...more
Jul 29, 2015 Ruthie rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
Freya Stark lived a fascinating, fearless, adventurous, long life. She spent most of it traveling in the Middle East, much of that travel in regions where women traveling alone was unheard of. She traveled as a native, on a pack mule, sleeping in homes in small villages, learning how the locals lived.

She wrote many articles about her discoveries that were published in the journals of the Royal Geographic Society, and drew up maps of regions that were until then unmapped. She took photographs and
Grady McCallie
Nov 13, 2012 Grady McCallie rated it really liked it
In 1930, 1931, and1932, Freya Stark traveled as a single woman (with one or two hired henchmen) through mountain regions of what was then Persia, now Iran. Her exotically titled 'the Valleys of the Assassins' recounts those several trips, including one to see the ruins of Alamut, the castle of the Old Man of the Mountain, the original assassins.

Stark's writing is beautiful, with terrific descriptions of the landscapes she passes through. While most of what she does is not physically grueling (s
May 30, 2011 Mark rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Mary Kay Feather, Micky Ryan, Jim Lammers
Freya Stark was the kind of adventurer and writer the world doesn’t really know anymore. She was fearless, at least she made it sound on paper. Trained as a geographer and cartographer, she lived in Baghdad in the Thirties and traveled throughout the Middle East, Turkey and Afghanistan intrepidly, sometimes gathering intelligence for the British, sometimes on Archeological expeditions and other adventures. Freya went places that few westerners at the time would go, let alone a woman traveling al ...more
Deborah Pickstone
This has been on the go for a while, unusually - but it is very good and really interesting. Freya Stark was one woman who broke every mould and dared anything. Admirable and inspiring.
Oct 03, 2013 Dale rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, travel
This is a collection of Stark's writings about her adventure travels in the middle east during the early 1930s, mostly in the Iran/Iraq border region. She traveled on foot and on horseback through what was then (and probably is still) very wild and dangerous country, in a place where women were expected not to be, and managed to face down a good many very difficult and dangerous situations. It's surprising that she survived; but in fact she continued to travel for decades, and died at age 101.

Sep 15, 2014 Conrad rated it really liked it
It is quite remarkable that an English woman should, in 1930, take a notion to travel by herself to the remote regions of northern Persia - a land still closely resembling the tribal patterns of medieval days. With local tribesmen as guides, she made her way over the mountains and through the valleys casting herself upon the hospitality of the villagers. She seems to have been quite fluent in language and well acquainted with the history of the area which certainly worked in her favor. A fascina ...more
Feb 01, 2015 globulon rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
I learned about her by reading Lawrence Durrell's "Bitter Lemons of Cyprus". He just mentions her briefly but I was quite interested when I read her bio on wikipedia.

For me this book was amazing. She seems to have a great ability to relate to people and there are many instances where some kind of savvy was required, from simple humility and politeness to more tricky manipulations. She also does what little humanitarian aid she can, like dispensing medicines or trying to help make a splint for a
Dana Stabenow
Jan 24, 2014 Dana Stabenow rated it really liked it
One of my 2014 favorite reads.

In 1930 and 1932 Freya Stark, a British woman in her 30s, traveled into Persia (Iran) as far as the rock of Alamut, the stronghold of that madman who seduced his followers with hashish into carrying out for-hire assassinations from Jerusalem to Marseilles. She went alone, on the proverbial shoestring, hiring guides as she went. Everyone thought she was mad as well, but when she came back from her second trip she wrote this book, which was an instant sensation and de
I'd read a biography of Freya Stark first, the excellent Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark that was a full account of Stark's life and adventures, and was curious to read something by Stark herself. The Valleys of the Assassins is the first I have read by her.

Her adventures in the Middle East, including experiencing different cultures as a lone English woman in many cases, are incredibly interesting. She traipses through the Arab world after Lawrence but while there is a largely British
Jul 27, 2014 Sonia rated it liked it
I ADORE Freya Stark. She inspired my own wanderlust many years ago, and always reminds me that there is so much to learn and explore.

To be honest, this book was a little tedious, but I think that has more to do with the fact that I am reading it decades after it was published. I can imagine reading it as a young woman in the 30s and my mind being completely in awe of the world that was out there.

So for Freya, as an explorer, as a traveler, and as an all around kickass lady, 5 stars. For this b
Judith Rich
Jan 15, 2017 Judith Rich rated it liked it
Quite enjoyed this travel memoir (my book set in the Middle East for the 2016 Read Harder challenge), which has a couple of corking quotes I'll be writing down from it - "I love all my grandchildren. Except that one - I can't stand her!"

Freya Stark really is the last of a tradition of grandes dames of travel you just don't get any more.
Laura Bang
Oct 09, 2016 Laura Bang rated it really liked it
A fascinating journey through Iran in the early 1930s in pursuit of history and geography. I love Freya Stark's descriptions of landscapes and people -- they are so vivid. Stark is largely sympathetic to the people she encounters, although she is definitely a product of her time, so some less-than-kind descriptions do also show up.
Apr 08, 2016 Aj rated it liked it
I did quite like this book but it was a bit of a slog to read. Honestly, I think a lot of it was my own issue rather than any fault with the book. This is a book that is very firmly set in the 'travel writing' genre, which I'm finding is one that I have a hard time with.

This book challenges the reader to take it's time; with the language, with the absorption of the information presented, and with the story presented. A lot of location names and unfamiliar-to-me language is used, and while I was
Jul 25, 2016 Yarb rated it liked it
Shelves: read-but-unowned
Narratives of several journeys in remote areas of the Middle East, principally the Persia-Iraq border region, in the 1930's. Armed with the self-assurance of empire, but also innate savvy, cunning, and fluency in various local languages, the author explores the tribal hill-country of Luristan, and the area of northern Persia which was home to the titular assassins first described by Marco Polo, outwitting and deceiving unfriendly officials/police as necessary. She is motivated partly by her own ...more
Julie Whelan
Jul 04, 2012 Julie Whelan rated it liked it
Reading Valley of the Assasins which describes the travels of this brave woman Freya Stark, as she travels through "Persia" in the 1930s, one has to admire her courage and great sense of adventure. Riding either horses or donkeys she explores first the region of Luristan then the Valley of the Assasins. This name comes from the leader Hasan-i-Sabbah (1071), whose name "Hasan" became corrupted to Assasin, due to his habit of drugging and then killing his enemies in his garden. Much of the writing ...more
Jul 20, 2013 Matt rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Freya Stark is the closest to a real Indiana Jones that I've encountered. Her adventures across the Middle East in the early 1930s are fascinating, with beautiful descriptions of the land, the people, and the history of the places she went. As a modern reader, it's hard not to think about the complicating factors. In particular, her archaeology is of the adventurous Indiana Jones type that often seems to create more ethical questions than it provides historical answers.

There are, I am sure, boo
Jenny Yates
Jan 02, 2015 Jenny Yates rated it it was ok
She was an amazing person, Freya Stark. She traveled by herself throughout Iran and Iraq in the 30s, making maps, meeting the locals, and looking for bits and pieces of history. She traveled by mule and on foot, using local guides, and every night she’d arrive unexpectedly at a some nomad’s tent and be invited to dine and given a place to sleep (often under the stars).

It sounds pretty glamorous, and it really is remarkable. But I have to say that this book was a bit hard to get through. Geograp
Joseph Meth
Jun 06, 2016 Joseph Meth rated it did not like it
Sorry, this is one of the few books I couldn't get into at all; as a matter of fact, I couldn't even skim it to the end. It was written in a different time and almost in a different, shorthand sort of language. While much space and many words given to describing clothing, discussion of history was minimal. Like any travelogue, many individuals Freya met on her adventure were named and their clothing described but soon were forgotten. Many valleys, mountains, hills, plains, streams were named and ...more
Jul 15, 2012 Owen rated it really liked it
This is the story of several journeys undertaken in the early 1930s by that intrepid Englishwoman, Freya Stark. Travelling only in the presence of local guides and speaking nothing but Persian for week after week, she leads us into the high mountain country of ancient Kurdistan, Luristan and Lakistan (and possibly a few other -stans), searching for traces of ancient civilizations (as well as Bronze-age man). She follows old trails through remote villages, occasionally coming across some major wo ...more
Jun 11, 2012 Kimi rated it liked it
i didn't enjoy stark's writing as much as thesinger's. i had really been looking forward to reading this after seeing a review of a new biography about stark. her life was really interesting, being english, growing up in italy, and then later traveling on her own in the middle east after studying arabic in lebanon. the reviewer recommended this book, saying it was the best among the several she had written.

i suppose one could say her life was more interesting than her writing. she writes, at ti
Jeannette López
Aug 20, 2013 Jeannette López rated it it was amazing
Se narra la historia de Freya, quien viaja a Persia por los años 1930 aprox. (?)

Me pareció una historia interesante por ser la primera que leo de este tipo, pero además porque no conozco nada de la región en donde sucede la historia, así que todo resultó nuevo e interesante.

Quedé impresionada con la actitud de Stark, quien se adentró en una región sin conocerla y, mayormente, por su cuenta, valiéndose de sus conocimientos geográficos y cartográficos para establecer rutas a seguir y descubrir la
Jan 23, 2013 Abby added it
I find I don't really like this person that much. But I keep reading her, because I admire her sheer guts and intellect, her uncanny ability to size up personalities, perceive truth and falsehood, bargain, barter, and schmooze. Her endless energy and interest. Her absolute fearlessness. And most of all, the way she puts all this together to get exactly what she wants. She would make a fantastic politician--seriously, make this girl Secretary of State. But that, I suppose, would violate her code ...more
Mike  Davis
I read this book as a monthly discussion group assignment. It is an interesting account written in 1937 of the travels of British author Freya Stark, a lone traveler, archaeologist and geographer. Stark documents her travels in Persia (Iran) by mule and foot, mapping the terrain and searching for bronze age remnants of civilizations. Her descriptions of the remote villages and peoples she encounters as well as the country are well done and it is interesting reading, although names of towns are u ...more
Deon Stonehouse
Flitting about exotic locations must be invigorating, Freya Stark lived 100 adventure filled years. She travelled all over Persia as a lone woman and thoroughly enjoyed herself. It is refreshing to read the travels of an independent woman, who defied tradition, enjoyed her fellow man, and appreciated the beauty of her surroundings. Freya Stark said, “One life is an absurdly small allowance”. I agree. She relished life, took chances, did things most of us will never attempt, and fortunately chose ...more
Nov 17, 2008 Roxanne rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
I really liked this book, the memoir of Freya Stark's travels in Persia in the early 1930s. She has such humor and wit, and such courage to just pick up and go into these remote places, places where the local people have often never seen a Westerner, let alone a British woman. She has a gift for language and for describing the places she visits and the people she meets. Her books are truly a portrait of a people and a way of life that was on the cusp of changing forever even when she was there a ...more
Sheila rood
May 12, 2011 Sheila rood rated it it was amazing
After reading this amazing travel journal it made me appreciate the courage and strength of Freya Stark.
She is sadly rarely mentioned with explorers of the early 20th century.
Her witicisms still hold true today.
The only disturbing parts I found were that with the advent of technology the natural beauty of the areas has been degraded.And the unfortunate position in society that the local women held.
The Hancock
Mar 23, 2014 The Hancock rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I would not characterize this as a page-turner but it was usually fascinating. Ms. Stark was a traveller/writer/geographer/cartographer/adventurer in what is now Iran & Iraq. This book is a synthesis of several trips made there in the 1920s & 1930s. Her tales are remarkable for several reasons, not the least of which is that she is single woman traveling alone in the Islamic world of the early twentieth century.
Seth Shaw
Aug 28, 2012 Seth Shaw rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first heard of Freya Stark on the "Stuff You Missed in History Class" Podcast. I thought she sounded like a very compelling individual with some very interesting stories to tell. Reading this book confirmed that. She has a wonderfully descriptive narrative style that I greatly enjoyed. Most passages were good but some were remarkably beautiful.
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Freya Stark was born in Paris, where her parents were studying art. Her mother, Flora, was an Italian of Polish/German descent; her father, Robert, an English painter from Devon.

In her lifetime she was famous for her experiences in the Middle East, her writing and her cartography. Freya Stark was not only one of the first Western women to travel through the Arabian deserts (Hadhramaut), she often
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“Solitude, I reflected, is the one deep necessity of the human spirit to which adequate recognition is never given in our codes. It is looked upon as a discipline or penance, but hardly ever as the indispensable, pleasant ingredient it is to ordinary life, and from this want of recognition come half our domestic troubles.” 14 likes
“If I were asked to enumerate the pleasures of travel, this would be one of the greatest among them - that so often and so unexpectedly you meet the best in human nature, and seeing it so by surprise and often with a most improbable background, you come, with a sense of pleasant thankfulness, to realize how widely scattered in the world are goodness and courtesy and the love of immaterial things, fair blossoms found in every climate, on every soil.” 2 likes
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