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News From Tartary

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  480 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
In 1935 Peter Fleming, an editor for the London Times and, interestingly, Ian Fleming's older brother, set out from Peking for Kashmir. It was a 3500 mile journey across the roof of the world. He chose as his traveling companion Ella Maillart, a beautiful Swiss journalist.

Fleming is one to underemphasize difficulties. He describes events and places in brilliant color and

Paperback, 394 pages
Published 2001 by Birlinn Limited (first published 1936)
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Jul 05, 2015 BrokenTune rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
"Kini's acute sense of smell I have mentioned as a handicap in travel; but here it stood us in good stead. She went out to have a look at the surviving camels and caught a whiff of rotting flesh; it came from the Prime Minister's camel, originally christened The Pearl of the Tsaidam and now known as The Pearl for short. Kini brought him into camp and we took his packsaddle off; on the spine between the humps an ancient sore under the skin had reopened and was festering fast. We pegged his head d ...more
Melissa McShane
Sep 14, 2015 Melissa McShane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, travel, politics
I enjoyed Fleming's book To Peking: A Forgotten Journey from Moscow to Manchuria very much, and a commenter on that review suggested I read this one. I'm so glad I did. It was a delightful account of two people's travels to a place they absolutely weren't supposed to go--and did anyway. Fleming has a witty, dry voice that draws you in and makes even his accounts of the political situation in Asia in the 1930s interesting. The deserts of central Asia come alive--if you can call it that when so mu ...more
I unwittingly did this book a great disservice. And so it is not really a reflection on the book that I nearly gave it 3 stars. I therefore gave it 4.
The problem was, I read an incredible 5 star book (Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger) before News From Tartary and in light of that, News from Tartary paled in comparison.
I never felt a personal connection with this book, the people profiled within it, including the author, or the environment they travelled through. It was all just a bit intangible
For those who aren’t aware, Forbidden Journey, by Ella Maillart and News From Tartary by Peter Fleming both describe the same journey, at the same time, taken together. They were somewhat reluctant companions, who both expressed their misgivings about undertaking the journey together.

”The jokes were flying. Somebody observed that Peter’s last book was called One’s Company, and the English edition of my last book, was Turkestan Solo. Now here we were, contrary to all our principles, going off to
Ryan Murdock
Nov 14, 2013 Ryan Murdock rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this brilliant travel classic. Fleming and Swiss writer Ella Maillart set out to travel overland between Peking, China to Kashmir, India in the 1930's - an unstable time when China's Communist insurgency was on the rise, and the far west province of Xinjiang was well beyond the control of the capital. Fleming's account of their journey by horse and camel is sharply observed, brilliantly funny, and the dangers and hardships are always understated.

I traveled some of that same
Feb 07, 2013 Bookguide rated it liked it
This was an interesting account of a journey from Peking by train, then by foot, camel and horse, from Sining in the East, across the high plains, mountains, deserts and marshes of southern Mongolia, the north-east corner of Tibet, into the Sinkiang region of China, and over the mountain passes into what is now Pakistan and Srinigar in India, following the little-travelled southern Silk Route. The author, Peter Fleming, was the brother of Ian Fleming (the author of the original James Bond novels ...more
May 28, 2012 Caro rated it really liked it
A must-read for anyone interested in Central Asia or the Silk Road, and a classic of British travel writing. Peter Fleming (Ian's brother) decided at age 27 to travel from Peking to Srinagar in order to learn more about the closed region of Sinkiang (now known as the Western Uighur Autonomous Region of China). The political bits are confusing and not that interesting, but luckily most of this is about the journey. Along with Swiss traveler and adventurer Ella Maillart(and there's someone to lear ...more
Rex Fuller
Nov 14, 2014 Rex Fuller rated it really liked it
China, 1935. Communists wage civil war. The Soviet Union supports them and hunts down White Russian refugees. A dusty patina of poverty and disease settles everywhere. Of course, the very thing for a British newspaper reporter and his photographer friend to do would be a personal jaunt 3,500 miles west from Peking to Kashmir. Sort of informs the phrase “mad dogs and Englishmen.” The author was an experienced traveler having just been to the Caucasus, Ukraine, Samarkand, the Amur frontier, Vladi ...more
Ethan Cramer-Flood
Aug 11, 2014 Ethan Cramer-Flood rated it really liked it
In 1935, while his brother Ian was comfortably back in England (James Bond just a twinkle in his eye), Peter Fleming was making a career of adventure-writing and travel journalism. In those final hours of the Great Game era in Asia, one could still become a celebrity explorer in the service of the crown, and even plausibly walk in the footsteps -- or be perceived as walking in the footsteps -- of a certain Sir Lawrence. Peter Fleming's life, at the time, was thought by his contemporary readers a ...more
Sigrid Ellis
Aug 26, 2010 Sigrid Ellis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-asian, memoir
My goodness, I liked this book.

Peter Fleming was brother to the James-Bond-famous Ian Fleming. Peter was a journalist, a world traveler, and an occasional spy. In 1935 he traveled from Peking to Srinagar. He traveled with a Swiss journalist, Kini, by truck, donkey, horse, camel, and foot through Siankiang, now known as the Western Uighur Autonomous Region of China. In 1935 it was under contested rule by China, an independence movement, and the Soviet Union. When Fleming and Kini set out, no one
Julian Schwarzenbach
Sep 20, 2012 Julian Schwarzenbach rated it it was amazing
Rereading of a favourite travel book.
I first read this in a lovely 1930's hardback edition some 30 years ago and found the writing spellbinding and very evocative. Having not looked at it for a number of years, I have just re-read it (after having re-read Brazilian Adventure and One's Company).
The writing is still well paced and very evocative of a long and sometimes tedious and arduous journey. The description of the people and places are fascinating, particularly as the world described almost
First read circa 1982, this remains one of my absolute all-time favorites -- I reread it every few years, and always keep a dictionary handy. No one writes with the elegance and bone dry humor of the late 19th/early 20th century British explorers. My very first nominee for the title "Best. Book. Ever."
Apr 09, 2012 Wendy rated it liked it
A vivid account of a spectacularly tedious journey, pace landscape. I think Peter Fleming was a better writer than his brother, and it is easy to see how he might have served as a partial model for James Bond.
Oct 24, 2014 Kay rated it really liked it
Travelling Asia at Asia's pace

Peter Fleming's account of his 3500-mile trek from Peking to Kashmir in 1935, a tale of adventure and portrait of a now-lost China, is enriched by his self-deprecating sense of humor and his expressive prose. A travel classic, News from Tartary is #64 on National Geographic's "100 Best Adventure Books" list.

Fleming calls himself "the amateur" and repeatedly draws the reader's attention to his lack of preparation:

“Our ignorance, our chronic lack of advance informat
Jan 27, 2015 ^ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those with an open mind.
To read such a book as this is to realise, by comparison, how desperately limited much fiction writing is. “News From Tartary” is an account of a journey made during seven months of 1935 through Sinkiang province; a part of Western China that was anything but quietly and godly governed. Imperial China had fallen; replaced by Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang government operating from Nanjing in the East of the country, who were at loggerheads with the Communist Chinese busily creating trouble in sout ...more
Feb 08, 2013 Katrina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
I enjoyed this a lot. Peter Fleming (Ian's brother) spends several months travelling through Central Asia in 1935, with Swiss journalist Ella Maillart. Their aim is to get news from a conflict-torn Chinese province that no one has heard from in two years. It's a kind of intrepid and dangerous travel that wouldn't be likely these days; they travel by train, lorry, camel, donkey, horse, and on foot; at each checkpoint they risk being arrested or shot as spies, or being turned back.

The political co
More three and a half stars really. An interesting, understated travelogue by Ian Fleming's brother, a Times correspondent, who crossed China in 1935. Along with Kini Maillart - who was an amazing woman in her own right - they travelled by train, yak, horse and camel across deserts, plains, oases and mountains to record the state of the country from Peking to Kashmir in India.

Allowances need to be made for the era in which it was written. The sympathetic way in which the fate of the various liv
Jul 29, 2015 Aaron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another random category reading I decided to take up was old travel writing. This fits the bill. Peter Fleming is a funny writer. He actually does what he says: and academics should do more of that.

"I have never admired, and very seldom liked, anything that I have written; and I can only hope that this book will commend itself more to you than it does to me. But it is at least honest in its intention. I really have done my best -- and it was difficult, because we led such a queer, remote, speci
Nov 11, 2014 Betty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia, adventure
Ella Maillart made the arduous eight-month journey with Peter Fleming and wrote about it in Forbidden Journey. News from Tartary is Fleming's account. Fleming is the better writer and his sense of humor shows itself from time to time. This edition has no maps, or any other illustration. It's frustrating to read about the photos he took (and the film that might have been ruined), but not have any pictures for the reader. Still, fans of adventure books must read this.

Sample quote (describing two o
Feb 12, 2013 Lynn added it
I found this a compelling read - in short bursts - despite nothing really momentous actually happening.

However, the writing captured the sheer monotony of the journey day after day as well as highlighting the different cultures and sub-cultures encountered by Peter and his companion.

It was descriptive and engaging, you really did want them to succeed against all odds. I felt quite sorry when I finished it as it had been a comforting read, suitable to be picked up anywhere and anytime for any len
Peter Janke
Aug 10, 2013 Peter Janke rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this unusual report of adventure and travel from China to India in the 1930s. Fleming is the older brother of Ian Fleming of James Bond fame and an excellent writer. His optimistic and easy-going reactions to what most of us would consider hair-raising conditions are remarkable, and there are many insights into the political and social life of Tartary in wartime. This is a book that lingers in the memory.
V. Frost
Sep 04, 2016 V. Frost rated it it was amazing
Extremely well-written, and pretty insightful. Also: authorial voice was mildly witty, and decently descriptive. Managed to lay out all the geopolitical, sociological/anthropological stuff, also, in a way that was not tiresome (although occasionally--incorrect in an amusing way).

Do not see that many travelogues in English about Western China/Central-ish Asia, and so, also notable for that reason.

This was a good one, will read again.
Aug 05, 2008 J. rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: wallahs...
With Ella Maillart's Forbidden Journey, the story of an unlikely mission from Peking across the Gobi & Taklamakan deserts, across the Himalayas and into the India of the British Raj in the thirties. Accompanied by Maillart, Fleming gives his own affable, humourous account of this unforgettable, spectacular journey.
Mar 12, 2013 Jane rated it it was amazing
I love travel books. This one is by one of my favorite travel writers (he's Ian Fleming's brother, by the way). Across the wilds of Asia in 1935 with a woman friend as a companion - yes you read that correctly. Travel adventures like this were my favorite way to learn about the world pre-internet. Perhaps they still are.
Sep 03, 2015 J rated it it was amazing
A wonderfully observant, compassionate, humorous account of a 3500 mile, 7 month journey across central Asia in 1935 undertaken with little preparedness or expertise. It's one of the best works of travel writing I have read. THe original cloth bound version with all of the photos and maps is recommended.
Nov 07, 2008 Pete rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel-writing
Mamouthly long trrip across China - Sinkiang to Hunza and India in 30's. Full of atmosphere and peoples.
Alia S
Nov 20, 2011 Alia S added it
Shelves: false-starts
Fleming's self-deprecating asides (dreadfully English) were slowing this down more than I felt like bothering with at the time. Might come back to it.
Andrew Ziebro
Jul 11, 2016 Andrew Ziebro rated it liked it
A bit dry and the map was useless, so it was hard to understand where they were during the whole adventure.
Second copy bought to give away.

I have preferred to read and review my hardback copy; the fold-out map and photographs in that edition are absent from this paperback.
Sep 05, 2015 JC rated it liked it
This is an interesting book that details the journey of Fleming and his partner in 1935. The book has its ups and downs in turns of flow, but is interesting.
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Adventurer and travel writer. A brother of James Bond author Ian Fleming, he married actress Celia Johnson in 1935 and worked on military deception operations in World War II.
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