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News from Tartary: An Epic Journey Across Central Asia

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  549 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
News from Tartary describes a phenomenally successful attempt that legendary adventurer Peter Fleming made to travel overland from Peking to Kashmir. The journey took seven months and covered about 3,500 miles. and Motivated largely by curiosity, he set out with his companion Ella Maillart across a China torn by civil war to journey through Xinjiang to British India. It ha ...more
Paperback, 424 pages
Published October 28th 2014 by Tauris Parke Paperbacks (first published 1936)
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Apr 08, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 25, 2015 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
Max Nemtsov
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: far-east
Продолжаем ходить по следам экспедиций великого Питера Флеминга. 1935 год — Рерих посреди свой маньчжурской авантюры, собирает монголов под желтое знамя паназиатизма с собой во главе, но явно по заданию НКВД. В Тибет его больше не пускают как агента коммунизма. В то же время скромный (в смысле отсутствия амбиций) журналист широкого профиля (ну и отчасти шпион, куда же без этого) Флеминг без особых проблем отправляется из Пекина в Синцзян, слегка огибая Тибет, в поисках «новостей из Татарии», где ...more
Ryan Murdock
Nov 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 31, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 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
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."
Feb 21, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 10, 2012 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
Mark Powell
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best travel books I've ever read. Observant, adventurous and with a fantastic dry humour.
Andrew Post
What need I say? In 1935, an Englishman and a Swiss woman, both adventurers in their own right, team up to make a (highly illegal) journey overland from Peking to India without the Chinese government's knowledge or permission. The 3,500-mile journey takes seven and a half months and takes Mr. Fleming and Ms. Maillart to the dry, arid, western extremes of China. Along the way they meet Mongols, Tibetans, Chinese Muslims, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, and all manner of colorful characters. They ford swift snow- ...more
John Eyler
Feb 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A sample: "A little further on we sighted it: the Mintaka Pass, the pass of a Thousand Ibex, 15,600 feet above sea level. A rough zig zag track led up to it climbing
painfully the steep and rock strewn wall of the valley. We had come at last to the extreme boundary of China. Snow began to fall as we attacked the pass. The falling snow made a veil which half shut out the world, the valley sprawling below me and the jagged peaks above; so small things close at hand took on a kind of intimacy, a new
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Jan 28, 2013 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 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 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
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
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read Fleming's "Brazilian Adventure" some years back, I looked forward to this later book recounting his 1930's overland journey from Peking (Beijing) to India via Tunganistan. It did not disappoint.
Christopher Collins
I had been travelling for six months already. Crèches in the Ukraine and wild boars in the Caucasus; the blue-tiled tomb of Tamerlane in Samarkand, and the legendary, dilatory Turksib Railway; forced labour gangs behind the Amur frontier gazing hungrily up at the train windows, and the garrison-town squalor of Vladivostock; the smell of opium in Manchurian inns; Japanese soldiers firing at unseen bandits between the wheels of a train; little horses and great frosts in Mongolia; a Christmas shoot ...more
Peter Janke
Aug 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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. He was a grandson of the Scottish financier Robert Fleming, who founded the Scottish American Investment Trust and the merchant bank Robert Fleming & Co.
More about Peter Fleming...