Roxanne's Reviews > The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut

The Southern Gates of Arabia by Freya Stark
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's review
Apr 05, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: nonfiction, memoir, travel
Read in November, 2009

In the early 1930s, Stark, a single British woman, traveled through southern Arabia alone, visiting country that few other Europeans had seen, particularly few women. This might sound incredibly dangerous, and it probably was, but Stark was helped along by her passion for Arabic history and her genuine interest in the people she met (as well as near fluency in Arabic, as far as I can tell), as well as her poise, charm, humor, and sense of adventure. She befriends bedouins and sheiks alike, as well as their women (with the women she tends to rely on a natural love of fashion, which endears her to just about every harem she encounters, and she often comes away with gifts of beautiful clothes). Unfortunately, Stark's travels are beset by illness: she comes down with the measles, and though she recovers, she's later struck with heart troubles and has to be rescued by the R.A.F. Her biggest concern is the fact that she won't be the first European to explore the ruined city she wants to get to. She has more fortitude than many travel writers I've read (but she still travels with face cream!).

I should admit that this was a difficult book to get through, and it took me a few weeks. I think this is because the language is so rich, and because it is true travel writing: not just the story of one person's journey, but a real picture of a place and a time and the people who lived there and how they lived. It's all the richer for that. I highly, highly recommend Freya Stark, and I'm looking forward to finding more of her work soon.
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