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Hailed as a classic upon its first publication in , The Valleys of the Assassins firmly established Freya Stark as one of her generation's most.
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She seems to have a great ability to relate to people and there are many instances where some kind of savvy was required, from simple humility and politeness to more tricky manipulations. She also does what little humanitarian aid she can, like dispensing medicines or trying to help make a splint for a I learned about her by reading Lawrence Durrell's "Bitter Lemons of Cyprus".


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  • She also does what little humanitarian aid she can, like dispensing medicines or trying to help make a splint for a broken leg. She is able to describe people and their apparent character well, whether she is praising or blaming. She has a great deal of respect for the people she meets along the way, but the various guides or helpers come in for a lot more abuse, though she seemed to respect one of them a lot. She is also happy to show these same people's good moments as well.

    Although most of the book is pretty concrete descriptions of the places she goes and the things she does, she does mix in some more poetic descriptions and some philosophical reflections as well as historical points which varied the material some in a nice way. The big caveat with this book, and one that you see a fair bit in the 3 star reviews here is that it can be a bit dry and list like at times. I really like maps, and it was very clear to me quite soon after starting that it might not be too much fun if I didn't have some kind of map or visualization of where she was going.

    The edition I read has a couple of maps but they weren't always terribly helpful. So i immediately went on the web to start looking at satellite maps etc of where she was talking about. I ended up spending A LOT of time browsing the maps trying to connect the dots of what she was talking about. There are several problems here. First off, transliteration is a huge problem because even if there are systems different people and maps will still do the transliteration differently. The second thing is that of course some place names have changed in the meantime.

    Thirdly many of the places don't have much web-presence, even if you get a hit somewhere, converting it into a spot on the map could be trying. Lastly, she can be incredibly detailed at times and really vague at others which can make it challenging. The first section of the book northern Lorestan was the worst in terms of being vague about where she was, but it also gave me some trouble with names I couldn't find elsewhere.

    Basically, the solution I came up with was a website called mapcarta plus google earth, though I did use a couple of other geographical websites. Mapcarta is kind of crappy but it's saving grace is that it has very many name-tags on villages and geographical features. Again the transliterations would often be different but usually if you can keep oriented and you are finding multiple very likely reference points you are in the right place.

    The awesome thing about google earth is that it gives you that 3dimensional feel which can often be quite obscured when looking at just the satellite images. Another amazing thing here is user uploaded photos which give another visual dimension. Also the tags on the photos sometimes gave further place name clues. So for me using these modern resources turned the book into something of a multi-media experience.

    It was wonderful to be able to travel along virtually though obviously not the same as actually being there. The other aspect of this is that of course these satellite maps are modern, so it is possible to see the development and modernization that has taken place in Iran. The obvious ones are roads, dams, and the fact that many of the areas she visited with tribespeople living in tents are now filled with settlements of permanent structures. So, for me the book was a great time, but If you are considering reading you might want to consider how much effort to put into following along.

    Dec 04, Margaret rated it liked it Shelves: english , read-summer , non-fiction , history , travel-food. I'd read a biography of Freya Stark first, the excellent Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark that was a full account of Stark's life and adventures, and was curious to read something by Stark herself.

    The Valleys of the Assassins is the first I have read by her. Her adventures in the Middle East, including experiencing different cultures as a lone English woman in many cases, are incredibly interesting. She traipses through the Arab world after Lawrence but while there is a largely British I'd read a biography of Freya Stark first, the excellent Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark that was a full account of Stark's life and adventures, and was curious to read something by Stark herself.

    She traipses through the Arab world after Lawrence but while there is a largely British influence in most areas. However, the Valleys of the Assassins is an out of the way place that even the English have not headed out to, and Stark also wants to collect artifacts and map the region. Overall I was a little disappointed by how very stiff and British this travel account is, but it's also a very unique first person perspective on a world that had been not heavily influenced, let alone seen, by outsiders. Jul 27, Sonia rated it liked it.

    She inspired my own wanderlust many years ago, and always reminds me that there is so much to learn and explore. To be honest, this book was a little tedious, but I think that has more to do with the fact that I am reading it decades after it was published. I can imagine reading it as a young woman in the 30s and my mind being completely in awe of the world that was out there.

    So for Freya, as an explorer, as a traveler, and as an all around kickass lady, 5 stars. For this book, 3 stars. Apr 08, Aj rated it liked it.

    View The Valleys Of The Assassins And Other Persian Travels Modern Library Paperbacks

    I did quite like this book but it was a bit of a slog to read. Honestly, I think a lot of it was my own issue rather than any fault with the book. This is a book that is very firmly set in the 'travel writing' genre, which I'm finding is one that I have a hard time with.

    This book challenges the reader to take it's time; with the language, with the absorption of the information presented, and with the story presented. A lot of location names and unfamiliar-to-me language is used, and while I was I did quite like this book but it was a bit of a slog to read. A lot of location names and unfamiliar-to-me language is used, and while I was able to cobble on due context, I'm not sure this was the best book for me to have started reading Freya Stark's work with.

    It also reads, very much, like a part 5 of a 9 part serialized work, or like volume 6 of a set of journals. Nothing is inherently wrong with that, but the beginning and endings are a bit jarring as there isn't really much in the way of context or a firm wrap-up. Still, the book itself is a really fascinating read. Partially because this is a woman, traveling basically alone, and her observations and interpretations of cultures in which she was not raised.

    It's also very much a snapshot of a time and place that were in, and partially remain in transition. Honestly, the one thing that bothers me the most - but which is also a function of the travel writing genre, somewhat - is the lack of FREYA that we get. Her personality is frustratingly present but distant. Not surprising given the general shade she and everyone else tends to throw at women in this book. She sets herself slightly apart from her own gender as a necessity and in doing so must distance herself from fully sharing her own thoughts.

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    Well, that's my interpretation. Still, I would have liked to see more of HER rather than formality for form's sake.

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    That said, it was a good, if challenging read. Jul 25, Yarb rated it liked it Shelves: read-but-unowned. Narratives of several journeys in remote areas of the Middle East, principally the Persia-Iraq border region, in the 's. She is motivated partly by her own Narratives of several journeys in remote areas of the Middle East, principally the Persia-Iraq border region, in the 's.

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    She is motivated partly by her own curiosity and wanderlust, and partly by a never fully explained commission from the British Foreign Office I think which likely relates to mapping and general intelligence gathering but apparently also includes a bona fide treasure hunt. As a Western woman she is able to report from both sides of the patriarchal societies with whom she stays.

    But I was frustrated by how little humanity she gives us: what there is is memorable, like the smart young tribesman with big plans to make it in Tehran, or the sorrowful first wife of a polygamous chief now supplanted by a younger model, but the focus is on geographical description - map-making, really - archaeology, and Stark's daily camp routine. I think as long as you don't go into this expecting a modern travelogue a la Chatwin or Theroux, you won't be disappointed.

    Passionate Nomad - Freya Stark's travels through Yemen, Iran, and Syria

    Its uniqueness alone is enough to recommend it. She led a pretty incredible life. Jul 04, Julie Whelan rated it liked it. Reading Valley of the Assasins which describes the travels of this brave woman Freya Stark, as she travels through "Persia" in the s, one has to admire her courage and great sense of adventure. Riding either horses or donkeys she explores first the region of Luristan then the Valley of the Assasins.

    This name comes from the leader Hasan-i-Sabbah , whose name "Hasan" became corrupted to Assasin, due to his habit of drugging and then killing his enemies in his garden. Much of the writing Reading Valley of the Assasins which describes the travels of this brave woman Freya Stark, as she travels through "Persia" in the s, one has to admire her courage and great sense of adventure.

    Much of the writing is engaging as the travelers never know what reception they are going to receive from the villagers and other travelers they encounter. However much of the writing becomes repetitive descriptions of riding over one mountain after another,down steep winding trails into valleys with scattered villages.

    Realizing that Stark was one of the first European travelers to describe this area one tries to be patient. Her trip was sponsored by the Geographical Society so she had a serious mission. She is also constantly searching for historical artifacts even to the extent of grave robbing.