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The Road To Oxiana

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,825 Ratings  ·  124 Reviews
'A writer of breathtaking prose - prose whose sensuous, chiselled beauty has cast its spell on English travel writing ever since' William Dalrymple

In 1933, the delightfully eccentric Robert Byron set out on a journey through the Middle East via Beirut, Jerusalem, Baghdad and Teheran to Oxiana - the country of the Oxus, the ancient name for the river Amu Darya which formed
Paperback, 416 pages
Published April 1st 2010 by Vintage Classics (first published 1937)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Jul 05, 2016 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
”Baalbek is the triumph of stone; of lapidary magnificence on a scale whose language, being still the language of the eye, dwarfs New York into a home of ants. The stone is peach-coloured, and is marked in ruddy gold as the columns of St. Martin-in-the-fields are marked in soot. It has a marmoreal texture, not transparent, but faintly powdered, like bloom on a plum.

Dawn is the time to see it, to look up at the Six Columns, when peach-gold and blue air shine with equal radiance, and even the emp
Jan 25, 2016 Paul rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
2.5 stars
This book and its writer are a bit of an enigma and I found myself liking and disliking Robert Byron in equal measure. The Road to Oxiana tells of a journey Byron made with Christopher Sykes to explore the architecture of what is now Iran and Afghanistan. If you want well written descriptions of Islamic architecture then Byron is your man; illustrated below;
“I have never encountered splendour of this kind before. Other interiors came into my mind as I stood there, to compare it with: Ve
Paul Bryant
Mash-up : The Rough Guide to the Middle East with Brideshead Revisited, the whole thing written up by that saucy boy Anthony Blanche. I did immoderately love flamboyant young Anthony up to no good in the louche bars of Oxford but when he morphs into Robert Byron and swans around sneering at Johnny Foreigner then it does get a bit too too :

I went to swim at the YMCA opposite the hotel. This necessitated paying two shillings [and] changing among a lot of hairy dwarves who smelt of garlic.

This is A
Nov 05, 2014 Hanneke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-read
After marking at least two dozen paragraphs to quote from, I gave up. Robert Byron is a writer who has at least one extremely funny wisecrack per page except when he is describing yet another dome, minaret or entrance gate with such intensity and long breath that you get bored after the detailed description of the fiftieth monument. What makes this travelodge from 1933 so exceptional is that he travels through Iraq, Persia and Afghanistan, thus regions which are now quite impossible to travel th ...more
Jim Coughenour
Jul 23, 2010 Jim Coughenour rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: armchairtravel
It only took me a few days to read this book about Robert Byron's 1934 journey through Persia and Afghanistan, but those few days were spread across six years. Byron's artfully artless "entries" ramble from exquisite lyricism to passages of undiluted boredom – although now, at the end, I've succumbed to its enchantment. Rory Stewart, in his Preface (which like all prefaces and introductions is best enjoyed after reading the book) observes that Byron more or less invented travel writing. "In Byro ...more
Jul 14, 2012 Boyd rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are many engaging European travel narratives of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but this is one of the very best--better than Lawrence or Thesiger; possibly one of the greatest ever.

In 1933, Robert Byron--an English writer, art critic, and gentleman adventurer--joined up with his friend Christopher Sykes and embarked on a journey of nearly a year that took him from Italy through Cyprus and Jerusalem, thence across Persia and Afghanistan, and at last to the tiny country of Oxiana i
Dec 25, 2015 Feliks rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: good-nonfiction
Not quite as spry or lively as the glowing cover summary/blurbs might lead one to believe. There's truly an ankle-depth of overly-minute detail one has to slog through. This, in favor over a decided lack of narrative impetus. If a gnat flits past this guy's eyebrow, he will mention it. Often hard to get a sense of where he actually is.

There's no continuity in the passages; nothing knits the episodes together. As a 'book' it is literally composed just of Byron's diary jottings as the journey wen
Amanda Brookfield
I had never heard of Robert Byron (distantly related to Lord Byron, but that's by-the-by), nor am I a natural fan of 'travel' writing, preferring my reading matter to be fictional. Nor had I a clue where or what Oxiana is. (It is an area around the River Oxus, the ancient name for the river Amu Darya, which snakes down from southern Russia into northern eastern Afghanistan). So I think it is fair to say that I approached this book with some caution, finding the very last copy of it in a bookshop ...more
Dana Stabenow
May 30, 2014 Dana Stabenow rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone planning to travel in Central Asia
Recommended to Dana by: Kathleen Alcala
I think this book would be better read on the ground he covers. The amount of detail about the towns (living and dead) and buildings and monuments he visits is overwhelming when you're reading it with your feet up at home, but it would very likely be amazing if you were standing in front of what's he's describing: "At Hamadan we eschewed the tombs of Esther and Avicennna, but visited the Gumbad-i-Alaviyan, a Seljuk mausoleum of the twelfth century, whose uncoloured stucco panels, puffed and punc ...more
Jim O'Donnell
Sep 13, 2011 Jim O'Donnell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A combination of the lyric, the dissertation and the comic, this is one of the most beautiful books every written. Chatwin called it “beyond criticism”. I agree. This is a book that allows you to taste the tea, smell the leaves and the dust and feel the cool air of the oasis… AND to experience a by-gone world lost in the wars of the past thirty years.

For nearly a year (1933-34), young Robert Byron traveled from Venice to Cyprus to Syria Iraq, Iran and into Afganistan. He ended his journey at the
Mar 02, 2010 shannon rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: no-so-much
The things we are forced to do for book club. This classic travel memoir is the diary-style memoir of an Englishman crossing Persia and Afghanistan in 1933. He is witty and likable, also random, pompous and casually racist in that impossibly pre-WWII way. His observations are keen and his writing witty - I even laughed out loud twice. But every part the world he captures seems ancient history. The buildings no longer stand, the countries are disappeared, the cities and ethnicities changed names ...more
May 13, 2007 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The 1930s, from this distance at least, feels like the last time you could go somewhere in the world and it would be really different, plus there was still an aristocratic class with the money and free time to meander around the world with all the positive and negative results of amateur exploration. The actual writing of the book is odd and varied and quite modernist - Paul Fussell (who I will be adding to my booklist before long) says The Road to Oxiana is to travel writing what Ulysses is to ...more
else fine
Mar 01, 2010 else fine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like awesome books
Snarky, underfunded, antisocial, linguistically limited, and with a keen dislike of both his own people and those of other nations, Byron trekked through Iran and Afghanistan in search of architectural treasures. The Road to Oxiana, composed in the form of a journal, veers between beautifully restrained descriptions of landscapes and ridiculous, self-deprecating slapstick. It's heavy on art theory and historical background but never for a moment feels either boring or stilted. A hugely fun, enor ...more
Nov 13, 2014 Miguel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favoritos, travelogue
É caso para dizer que, no que respeita a A Estrada Para Oxiana, de Robert Byron, a fama vem de longe; há muito tempo que conhecia o livro, já li muito a seu respeito, faz parte do cânone da literatura de viagens, sendo o grande livro de referência de grandes escritores de viagens, como o Bruce Chatwin. Foi finalmente publicado em Portugal, na coleção de literatura de viagens da editora Tinta da China, com uma tradução impecável (a boa tradução é aquela que não se dá por ela) e uma introdução da ...more
Mar 24, 2013 Steven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the early 1930s, Robert Byron traveled throughout Persia and Afghanistan, with any eye toward seeing spectacular examples of Muslim architecture with his own eyes. This book describes his journeys in a diary form that, in addition to being painstakingly descriptive of the buildings he visits, is also quite poetic and funny. His remembered conversations and interactions with various dignitaries and bureaucrats can be quite amusing.

Being a creature of the 1930s and the British empire, Byron has
In the lead-up to World War II, a cynical Oxford hedonist departed for points east to write one of the 20th Century's greatest jaded-fuck travelogues. Obnoxious Brits and Yanks abroad, bad meals, rough roads, pompous local potentates, and shitty parties with legations of various European nations fill the book. But so do stunning mountain scenes, architectural and archaeological wonders, and random kindnesses. Long before people like Paul Theroux and Bruce Chatwin made their names on travel writi ...more
Henrique Vogado
May 13, 2015 Henrique Vogado rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel-books
Um livro que fui lendo lentamente, tomando o pulso à viagem de Robert Byron, um inglês erudito e que partiu para o Médio Oriente para observar a arquitectura muçulmana. Uma viagem de meses pela antiga Pérsia e Afeganistão. Humor britânico, sensibilidade para observar o que escapa ao olho normal, surpreendeu pela enorme cultura histórica do autor.
Fiquei a gostar de um país que está em guerra à décadas e em que o autor faz observações sobre geo-política que ainda se mantém actual.
Uma viagem no tem
Jul 06, 2016 João rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A maioria dos caudalosos rios que nascem nas vertentes norte das poderosas cadeias montanhosas do Hindu Kush e do Pamir, os Himalaias ocidentais, não chegam a desaguar no mar, esvaindo-se em grandes deltas nas areias dos desertos de Karakum e de Taklamakan. Nestes deltas, existem, desde tempos remotos, riquíssimas cidades-oásis, pontos cruciais da Rota das Sedas, como Merv, Bukhara, Samarcanda ou Kashgar. Não muito longe, fica o igualmente isolado e fértil vale de Fergana, onde nasceu Babur, o m ...more
Oct 12, 2015 Lydia rated it liked it
So I just picked up this book and didn't really know what to expect.

I hadn't read a whole lot of non-fiction or travelogues before then, and I didn't know much about the book before I started. I would love to reread it again, because I know my reading tastes have changed.

Even though I didn't think the narrator was particularly interesting, I kept reading, there was something that just kept me reading. I like reading about cities and places and history, so perhaps that was it. I had a lot of tr
Jul 04, 2015 Luana rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

Io e la narrativa di viaggio non abbiamo mai avuto un gran feeling, e questo romanzo non fa che confermarlo. Bruce Chatwin l'ha definito "un'opera di genio", ma temo di essermi persa tutta questa decantata genialità.
Ad essere sincera, credo che la mia totale ignoranza in termini di architettura (punto forte del bagaglio culturale di Byron) e di storia dell'arte persiana/afghana abbia ampiamente contribuito al senso generalizzato di noia che ho provato durante la lettura.
Tuttavia, non bisogna
Mar 29, 2015 Jeffrey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exasperating. This book moved from brilliant, to imperial, to frustrating, to compassionate and back. Byron is British, and though his family lost their money, he was educated 'right.' Rory Steward, who writes the introduction for this, says that before Byron, British travelers were 'heroes. . . .Their purpose seemed professional or spiritual. . . .but they were often spies." Traveling and spying was a time-honored tradition in Britain, But Byron was the separation point. Typical of Byron, he be ...more
Nov 15, 2012 Miike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Byron set out to investigate and explore Islamic architecture but he found himself doing far more. I don't doubt his interest and knowledge on the initial subject matter, but I feel it was mainly an excuse to express his unique perspective on all manner of things.
The narrative takes in the people and places surrounding his quest from Persia through to the Oxiana river in Turkestan (present day Afganistan I think). There is a vast cast of characters breezing in and out of the pages which gives it
Jul 18, 2010 Christopher rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
I admired the form and style of this book maybe more than the content. Byron writes in short paragraph form with sarcasm, and an often merciful travel eye. But perhaps most of all I admire his hunger to travel to remote locales and his ability and imagination to find beauty in fragments of thousands year old ruins.

Byron's obsession with eastern art and architecture seems at least in part to do with the end of WWI and the end of government, and God, as the West traditionally conceived of them. K
Jun 19, 2007 Patrick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Probably the most seductive opening paragraphs i've ever read.

"Venice, August 20th, 1933.-- Here as a joy-hog: a pleasant change after that pension on the Giudecca two years ago. We went to the Lido this morning, and the Doge's Palace looked more beautiful from a speed-boat than it ever did from a gondola. The bathing, on a calm day, must be the worst in Europe: water like hot saliva, cigar-ends floating into one's mouth, and shoals of jellyfish.

Lifar came to dinner. Bertie mentioned that all w
Frank Jacobs
Apr 14, 2014 Frank Jacobs rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even slight criticism of the Shah of Persia would be dangerous in print, so Robert Byron insists on the ridiculous pseudonym Marjoribanks throughout his hilarious and erudite book - often called the Ulysses of travelogues: beneath its story arc (the account of a trip from Beirut to Afghanistan in the 1930s) it contains a millefeuille of genres and forms: ethnographic notes, architectural reviews, comic dialogues, lyric nature descriptions, simple newspaper clippings, diary entries, notes on poli ...more
Feb 14, 2010 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Road To Oxiana by Robert Byron, is a bout a journey he undertook in 1933 from the Middle East through Beirut, Jerusalem, Baghdad and Teheran to Oxiana, in the remote NE Afghanistan Wakhan. Being one of the first western travelers in this remote region between the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountains, his travels and tales will take on more interest now with the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Occassionally the details and the fastidious description of daily activities drown the more dramatic scene ...more
Sadie Slater
May 14, 2016 Sadie Slater rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought my copy of Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana in the early 90s, after reading Bruce Chatwin's introduction to the 1981 Picador edition in the posthumous collection of his non-fiction, What Am I Doing Here?; I was slightly obsessed with Chatwin after I'd read The Songlines shortly after finishing my GCSE exams and found it a blinding revelation in terms of what could be done with form and structure and blending fact and fiction, so buying something he'd recommended was both an act of homa ...more
Josh Friedlander
"The shorn and parcelled Oxus strains along
Through beds of sand and matted rushy isles —
Oxus, forgetting the bright speed he had
In his high mountain-cradle in Pamere,
A foiled circuitous wanderer"
Matthew Arnold

The Amu Darya river is known to Persians as Jehun, cognate of the Hebrew גיחון, one of the four primal rivers flowing from Eden mentioned in Genesis 2:12. But its ancient name is Oxus, whence comes the title of this book. It is also known to various cultures as Vaksha and Wehrod. This confl
A travel book that has a rather strong reputation or certainly did up until about 30 years ago; I don't think it's as big a literary event as Ulysses and the Wasteland (which was what was originally said about it) but it's certainly interesting. The writer comes across as a bit arrogant with a bad habit of screaming and hitting Iranians and Afghans who bother him. His account is of a journey through Iran and Afghanistan to British India, a difficult journey particularly given the mountainous ter ...more
Oct 11, 2014 Don rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(FROM MY BLOG) As many have pointed out to me, a visit to Iran seems like an odd way to amuse yourself. But then, it's always seemed that way.

Since my return home last month, I've finally got around to reading one of the great classics of travel writing, a memoir of travel through Persia (Iran) and Afghanistan in the 1930's: The Road to Oxiana, by the British writer, Robert Byron.

Byron was one of a once-familiar breed of English eccentrics: He had an urge to travel to places largely unvisited by
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Robert Byron (1905 - 24 February 1941) was a British travel writer, best known for his travelogue The Road to Oxiana. He was also a noted writer, art critic and historian.

Byron was born in 1905, and educated at Eton and Merton College, Oxford. He died in 1941, during the Second World War, when the ship on which he was travelling was torpedoed by a U-Boat off Cape Wrath, Scotland, en route to Egypt
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“Somebody must trespass on the taboos of modern nationalism, in the interests of human reason. Business can't. Diplomacy won't. It has to be people like us.” 16 likes
“Depois de Aqcha, a cor da paisagem mudou de chumbo para alumínio, tornou-se pálida e mortiça, como se há milhares e milhares de anos o sol lhe sugasse a alegria. Estávamos agora na planície de Balkh, que se diz ser a cidade mais antiga do mundo. Os maciços de árvores verdes, os tufos de erva áspera e cortante em forma de repuxo, quase pareciam negros, pois destacavam-se sobre o fundo daquela tonalidade mortal. De vez em quando, avistávamos um campo de cevada. O cereal estava maduro, e turcomanos em tronco nu colhiam-no com foices. Mas não era castanho nem dourado, nem lembrava Ceres, nem abundância. Parecia ter embranquecido prematuramente, como o cabelo de um louco, perdendo tudo o que nele fora nutritivo. E destas extensas mortalhas, primeiro a norte e depois a sul da estrada, elevavam-se as formas branco-acizentadas e carcomidas de uma arquitectura antiga, montículos, sulcados e esmaecidos pela chuva e pelo sol, mais estafados do que qualquer obra humana por mim vista: uma pirâmide torta, uma plataforma afunilada, um maciço de ameias, um animal agachado, com que os gregos de Báctria estavam familiarizados, e Marco Polo depois deles. Já deviam ter desaparecido. Mas foi o próprio impacto do sol, que, congregando a pertinácia daquele barro de cinza, permitiu conservar uma centelha inextinguível de forma, a centelha que não se encontra numa fortificação romana, nem numa mamoa coberta de erva, a centelha que continua a tremeluzir num mundo mais luminoso do que ela própria, cansada como só um suicida frustrado consegue ser.” 0 likes
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