Ajk's Reviews > Orient Express

Orient Express by John Dos Passos
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's review
Dec 14, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: turania

Picked this up from the library on a whim. It looked nice and old, I had the vague notion that Dos Passos was a good writer that I ought to know about, and it's short, which was vital around finals time.

I read the first few pages with dread. "Oh no," I thought, "Orientalist pap."But I was unfair. Sure, it begins by waxing lyrical about Istanbul which, let's be honest, is pretty boring. But as he goes through Ankara, Trabzon, Tblisi into Iran, it gets a whole lot more interesting. He actually meets and talks to people (the Sayyid was incredibly likable), and he does a great job describing the conflicts between everybody in the Caucasus. This includes a coherent discussion of the madness of Bolshevik Baku, which doesn't often exist. The bit on "The Dynasty of Things" in particular made me smile.

As he curves back south, going to Baghdad and then from Baghdad to Damascus, he lost me a bit. That may just be because I'm simply less sympathetic to Caravans and Arab errata then him. Which is totally cool. The soliloquy at the very end is nice, a great big cry against modernism as he knew it. Which is great, because we all yawp for the 1920's modernism he detested.

So overall a pleasant, quick, read. It's especially great to hear about the Turkish War of Independence from a contemporary account, especially for the breathtaking accounts of Mustafa Kemal.

It's not Dos Passos' fault that every 20something writer after him wanted to be like him. The book by itself is very good. Everyone in Istanbul's emulation of the book is not.
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