on…’The Road to Oxiana’ by Robert Byron

Posted: 22/03/2011 in Literature
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A rakish bounder amidst ancient treasures.

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 a real Jazz-age feel. This style is of its time and takes a while for the modern reader to be aquainted with the fractured descriptions. Once you get past this, the book rewards you with intense dry humour and witty asides. Byron is at his best when recounting his rakish behaviour e.g – passing himself off as Muslim to enter a Mosque, he is also a master at recording and mocking numerous eccentric conversations. Beneath the highly entertaining accounts is a man who really knows his subject and is passionate about his interests. This is what makes this book an actual classic. It was also written between the wars when Byron lived in Peking. This was the golden age of classic British Travel Literature

This book is not really for a general readership, by this I mean if you enjoy those ‘picking-olive-blossoms-in-the-Tuscan-breeze’ type books you may not get into this. If you like well written classics from the Imperial past like Evelyn Waugh  you will love this book. It also helps to have a basic appreciation of Historical Architecture.

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