The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels
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The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  372 ratings  ·  43 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...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 24th 2001 by Modern Library (first published 1934)
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West with the Night by Beryl MarkhamMy Journey to Lhasa by Alexandra David-NéelThe Valleys of the Assassins by Freya StarkStraight on Till Morning by Mary S. LovellPassionate Nomad by Jane Fletcher Geniesse
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Aug 26, 2012 Mark rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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.

Grady McCallie
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...more
"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
Dana Stabenow
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 deservedly so. "In the wastes of...more
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
Julie Whelan
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
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...more
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...more
Jan 29, 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
The Hancock
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.
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
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
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
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.
Seth Shaw
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.
I was hooked on Freya Stark several years ago and read everything of hers I could get my hands on. She is still my favorite travel writer. Yes, some of the draw is the "woman on her own" thing but mostly I love the beauty of the way she uses language in her writing. I could see, hear and taste everything she described. What more could I ask?
I was intrigued by Freya Stark the woman; impossible to imagine her strength and perseverance to travel in such isolated areas as a young woman alone in a man's 1930's world. Sadly however, I found the detail of her journeys a bit too demanding of a read. I am now reading her bibliography and enjoying it immensely.
Its a book about travel and adventure, meeting people from different cultures, and how the author, more difficult in her case for being a woman, manages to surpass with success difficult or even possibly dangerous situations.

Iran and Central Asia, its always interesting, so much history behind every story.
Oct 23, 2008 Ida rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: gave-up
I have tried twice now, for days at a time, to read this book...because I feel like I'm supposed to like this book. I love travel essays, and so many of the authors I enjoy reading recommend or were inspired by Freya Stark. But it's just dull description/narration and I just can't get into it.
Actually didn't finish this book. I became bored with descriptions of traveling from unpronounceable name to another unpronounceable name without being able to locate any of them on a map. There just seemed to be no way to relate to a real location.
And I was appalled at her attitude on grave looting.
Brita Johnson
I read parts of this and enjoyed the novelty of the idea of a woman traveling alone in the Middle East in the 1930s. Her writing is strong and no-nonsense - an enjoyable voice - and some was simply beautiful. I wondered if this book had any influence on Robin McKinley's fictional land of Damar.
Maureen Flatley
Rereading this....better than I remembered!

An important look at the history of the Middle East......if anyone thinks the situation in the Middle East can be reconciled w/ Western "diplomacy" or military intervention, Stark's powerful work written decades ago should set them straight.
really enjoyed this - particularly as it reminded me so much of a another independent traveler and free spirit, whose keen eye never misses detail whether it be a beautiful carving or the distress in a mother's eyes, the writing has an emotional pull as well as excellent narrative.
Definitely interesting to read, but at times I wasn't as much as engaged as I expected to be. Wish I loved it more than I actually do. Still, I cannot say I do not admire her willpower and adventurous spirit.

Perhaps will try some other books by her at a later date.
I have to admit that I never finished reading this but enjoyed it. Written in 1929, she explains a bit too much about the country and less about the people for my liking. When she does discuss the people and their customs it is interesting, from a woman's perspective.
I only read half, but I got the feel, I think. She writes beautifully about herself as a European female pot hunting in remote areas of Iran in 1930. Great writing about poor, proud people who distrust the government and live in a beautiful place.
May 29, 2007 Nora rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: travel lit fans
Stark is such a subtly funny travel writer - and brave: traveled through Yemen, Iran, parts of Afghanistan in the 1920s and 30s (I think) with native guides, learned Arabic and Persian, battled illness and ill-will along the way. A great read.
After reading several books about the life of Freya Stark and Gertrude Bell, this was a must read. This is her memoir of her travels to Iran/Iraq in 1930/31. She is herself a wonderful writer. I will read this book again.
My only regret while reading this book is that I didn't have a comprehensive map in front of me so that I could visualize the travels. Very interesting glimpse into what it was like to travel in a bygone era.
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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...more
More about Freya Stark...
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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.” 7 likes
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