Juha's Reviews > A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby
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Jan 11, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: central-asia, travel, history
Recommended for: people who like travel literature, are interested in exotic cultures and lands and history.
Read in February, 2009

This classic account of the author's climbing expedition to Mir Samir in Afghanistan in the 1950s is both informative and entertaining. The tone of the volume shifts from light and hilarious to more exhausted as the authors moves from preparation of the trip in England and Wales to the actual hardships in the Hindu Kush. Yet Newby never loses his wry humor. The extensive and detailed nature descriptions are well-crafted but may become a bit tedious at times. But the descriptions of the culture and people the author meets along the way are never boring. Having been written before political correctness, the descriptions are quite straightforward, like when they are hiring staff for the expedition, one of whom "had a broad, stupid face, like an old-fashioned prize-fighter, with a thick trunk-like nose and a deeply lined forehead with a wart on it." It is easy to see the man in front of you! Perhaps explaining some of the ethnic and religious differences that still dominate Afghan politics, Newby tells that: "The Tajiks are the original Persian owners of the Afghan soil, conquered and dispossessed by the Pathans but still speaking Persian; agriculturalists, Sunnites, intense in their religion, a far more ancient people than the Hazaras, round-headed, flat-faced Mongols who were settled in Central Afghanistan by Genghis Khan in the fourteenth century in the region he himself had depopulated and converted to the Shiah faith in the eighteenth by Nader Shah's Persian army."
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Magdelanye Having just finished A Short Walk I have been curious to know how others reviewed.You wrote>>
Having been written before political correctness, the descriptions are quite straightforward

Written before political correctness indeed. I really was stopped in my tracks by his casual patronizing attitude. It was a real spoiler.

I don't really trust his descriptions of the people, no matter how blunt in detail, because he didn't really see them.


Juha Magdelanye wrote: "Having just finished A Short Walk I have been curious to know how others reviewed.You wrote>>
Having been written before political correctness, the descriptions are quite straightforward

Written ..."


You mean, see them as persons, individuals? I don't quite read it like that. Surely he does see them, observing -- and commenting on -- their habits (some quite curious from a 1950s British point of view, I'm sure -- and, yes, their appearance. Why is it patronizing?


Magdelanye Juha, you quoted this yourself...."had a broad, stupid face, like an old-fashioned prize-fighter, with a thick trunk-like nose and a deeply lined forehead with a wart on it." It is easy to see the man in front of you!

I'm afraid I don't see much of this man,only his mask, and to say he had a stupid face is so casually offensive I dont understand how you dont find it patronizing.

I could pull out more examples, maybe one will suffice, p92 he finally describes one of the servants at the Embassey as " a fine looking, bearded man with loyal eyes." He then goes on to say "This is nearly always a bad sign in Asia where fine-looking, bearded men with loyal eyes have a habit of leaving you in the lurch at he most inconvenient moments."
This sweeping generalization was probably meant to be savvy and slighty funny, and if thats not bad enough he adds "-but this particular specimen really was faithful." Oh nice of it.

Juha, I really object to classification of people as specimans, and while I admitted to appreciating some of the book, this underlying lack of respect of the locals spoiled my enjoyment of this wacky adventure.


Juha Magdelanye wrote: "Juha, you quoted this yourself...."had a broad, stupid face, like an old-fashioned prize-fighter, with a thick trunk-like nose and a deeply lined forehead with a wart on it." It is easy to see the..."

OK, you're obviously right about the specimen part. I had forgotten about that.

Still, there are side characters in books whom we do not need to meet in any deeper sense. Had the author gotten to know each character that features in the book and characterized each and every one behind "the mask" this would not have been a 254 page book, but perhaps 3-4 times longer. So, the options are: (i) describe the person's appearance/atmosphere as you see it; (ii) describe it, but only in flattering terms; (iii) omit including the person in the book in the first place. I do wonder whether you'd object to that particular characterization equally much if the person described actually was an old prize-fighter, white English or American.

The other thing is, of course, that the book was published in 1958. The (cross-)cultural sensitivities were quite different at that time and age. Britain was still a colonial power, albeit a fading one. It was quite recently when physical anthropologists had been measuring skull shapes to determine racial characteristics and geographical determinism was fashionable in science. Progress progresses and we can't judge historical events or people's attitudes by today's standards. You'd have a hard time reading any colonial writing by Kipling, Conrad, Maugham, Orwell, etc. etc., should you judge all of their statements and views by how we have come to express ourselves in 2011.


message 5: by Magdelanye (last edited Sep 23, 2011 07:27PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Magdelanye It seems you really like this book Juha, and far be it from my intention to be a total spoiler.

I guess I would have preferred a longer book if it took that for the author to complete a better book. And you're right that we do not need to deeply meet all the characters encountered, only he never gets deep with anyone. Even his beloved Hugh, once they are actually together, is a rather sketchy character.

In fact, I would be okay with these ommissions if he devoloped an intimacy with the land.Not everybody is a people person. But although he occassionally reminds us that the views are spetacular, he doesnt look around much. Instead, he is focused entirely on their progress and the obstacles that delay them from acheiving their goal.

Yes, I know his feet hurt and he has been stoic and brave and he is a victim of his colonial mentality, but that doesnt get him off the hook. An author needs to be more mindful and sensitive to these issues.

How would you like it if somebody descibed your face as stupid? Was his face stupid because it wasnt refined? Because it was broad? Or placid, perhaps?
It's a stupid person indeed that lacks the intelligence to see beauty and intelligence in people who do not resemble himself.

Progress is not always linear, and not always progress.

When I was a child I developed a distaste for Kipling, but Conrad is magnificent, Orwell an exceptionally astute observer, and Maughm is the one I am particularly fond of and forgive him his flaws for his brilliance and his vulnerability.

It was his vulnerability that endeared me at all to Eric Newby. I havent entirely given up on him, and he does seem to have matured considerably as I am following him slowly down the ganges


Juha Hi again,
I didn't even like it *that* much; probably for the same reasons as you. But I do confess to liking the genre very much.


Magdelanye I love the genre and am pleased to see a fascinating new lot of books being written. Have you done much yourelf in the way of travel?


Juha In fact, travel is quite a large part of my job (I work for one of the UN programs) and as it happens I'm off to South Africa on coming Friday and will continue straight to India from there. I was born and raised in Finland but have now been living the States for the past dozen years (and stayed in a number of other places in between).

How about you? Your name would imply something other than North American, too.


Magdelanye Oh awesome. Your job sounds close to my dream job that I went back to school for.
Long story short, I was on my way to Kenya to see if I could get on at Olduvai Gorge, when I got stranded in Jerusalem, 1966. I married a sephardi, an African Jew, and we came back to Canada, mostly because he wanted to, but also I needed to get some credentials to apply for a UN job.

By the time I got my BA (in philosophy and sociology) we were seperated. It turned out, when he kearned English, that he was after the kind of life I was fleeing, and vice versa.We have a grown up son, and he went on to acheive most of his dreams with 6 more children and a cou[le of other wives.

AS for me, I work in a bookstore and occassionally break free.I have been to Thailand where I learned to care for and ride an elephant, I have walked half the camino de Santaigo, and more planned.

I am absolutely jealous of your upcoming trips.
Have a wonderful time and be safe and healthy.

BTW, I am liking Newby more as he awakens to his moral ambiguities.

What are you taking to read?


message 10: by Juha (new) - rated it 4 stars

Juha Many thanks for sharing your interesting story. In fact, I have family in Vancouver (my brother used to teach at UBC and his children stayed there when he moved back to Finland), so I should send them to your bookstore.

I'm currently reading Robert Kaplan's 'Monsoon' about the Indian Ocean sphere. It's essentially a travel book with a geographical and historical twist, although he makes a somewhat feeble effort to tie it to some American security issues (probably to make it sell better). So far so good. I'll take that, if it still has enough pages left by Friday. I'll also try to think of something India/Africa -related; I find it nice to tie the reading to the trip I'm taking.

Incidentally, I sometimes write about my trips (and also some music and books) in a blog. Any feedback will be welcome!

http://juhauitto.blogspot.com


Magdelanye Yes, do send them over.
Its Albion Books 423 Richards street and I work all day Mondays, and Tues =thurs from opening (10:30) till 2

I look forward to hearing about your trip


message 12: by Tuck (new)

Tuck Juha wrote: "Many thanks for sharing your interesting story. In fact, I have family in Vancouver (my brother used to teach at UBC and his children stayed there when he moved back to Finland), so I should send t..."

i really like your blog, good job with pics and commentary. have fun in south africa, it's a great place.


message 13: by Juha (new) - rated it 4 stars

Juha Tuck wrote: "Juha wrote: "Many thanks for sharing your interesting story. In fact, I have family in Vancouver (my brother used to teach at UBC and his children stayed there when he moved back to Finland), so I ..."

Well, thank you! I just added a little piece on South Africa to the blog. Any comments will be welcome.
Cheers,
Juha


message 14: by Magdelanye (last edited Sep 23, 2011 08:43PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Magdelanye Well hello Juha, How thoughtful you are to share this wealth of information. Well maybe this blog is part of your job, I appreciate your posting. I dipped into and have bookmarked links. The world develpment project is encouraging contributions and I want to follow up.
I just read a powerful book by an African woman, living a simple village life in the remote mountains of the Sudan, who was captured and sold as a slave to a family of Sudenese diplomats. After 10 years she finally escaped. I will recommend it to you.

My show this week will feature some African music. You can get it on the internet if you so choose. www.coopradio.org All Over the Map World Music Show.11am to 1 pm Sundays. I am the 4th sunday of every month, coming up again.

Your blog post is infact more to my taste than Newby in Afghanastan. He failed to observe the people or the place. You make friends and get high with the locals. Thats what I like.
Happy trails
Delanye


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