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A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush [Paperback]

Evelyn Waugh , Eric Newby
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 1 2008 Lonely Planet Travel Literature
A classic of travel writing, 'A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush' is Eric Newby's iconic account of his journey through one of the most remote and beautiful wildernesses on earth. It was 1956, and Eric Newby was earning an improbable living in the chaotic family business of London haute couture. Pining for adventure, Newby sent his friend Hugh Carless the now-famous cable - CAN YOU TRAVEL NURISTAN JUNE? - setting in motion a legendary journey from Mayfair to Afghanistan, and the mountains of the Hindu Kush, north-east of Kabul. Inexperienced and ill prepared (their preparations involved nothing more than some tips from a Welsh waitress), the amateurish rogues embark on a month of adventure and hardship in one of the most beautiful wildernesses on earth - a journey that adventurers with more experience and sense may never have undertaken. With good humour, sharp wit and keen observation, the charming narrative style of 'A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush' would soon crystallise Newby's reputation as one of the greatest travel writers of all time. One of the greatest travel classics from one of Britain's best-loved travel writers, this edition includes new photographs, an epilogue from Newby's travelling companion, Hugh Carless, and a prologue from one of Newby's greatest proponents, Evelyn Waugh.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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For more than a decade following the end of World War II, Eric Newby toiled away in the British fashion industry, peddling some of the ugliest clothes on the planet. (Regarding one wafer-thin model in her runway best, he was reminded of "those flagpoles they put up in the Mall when the Queen comes home.") Fortunately, Newby reached the end his haute-couture tether in 1956. At that point, with the sort of sublime impulsiveness that's forbidden to fictional characters but endemic to real ones, he decided to visit a remote corner of Afghanistan, where no Englishman had planted his brogans for at least 50 years. What's more, he recorded his adventure in a classic narrative, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. The title, of course, is a fine example of Newby's habitual self-effacement, since his journey--which included a near-ascent of the 19,800-foot Mir Samir--was anything but short. And his book seems to furnish a missing link between the great Britannic wanderers of the Victorian era and such contemporary jungle nuts as Redmond O'Hanlon.

At times it also brings to mind Evelyn Waugh, who contributed the preface. Newby is a less acidulous writer, to be sure, and he has little interest in launching the sort of heat-seeking satiric missiles that were Waugh's specialty. Still, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush is a hilarious read. The author excels at the dispiriting snapshot, capturing, say, the Afghan backwater of Fariman in two crisp sentences: "A whole gale of wind was blowing, tearing up the surface of the main street. Except for two policemen holding hands and a dog whose hind legs were paralysed it was deserted." His capsule history of Nuristan also gets in some sly digs at Britain's special relationship with the violence-prone Abdur Rahman:

Officially his subsidy had just been increased from 12,000 to 16,000 lakhs of rupees. To the British he had fully justified their selection of him as Amir of Afghanistan and, apart from the few foibles remarked by Lord Curzon, like flaying people alive who displeased him, blowing them from the mouths of cannon, or standing them up to the neck in pools of water on the summits of high mountains and letting them freeze solid, he had done nothing to which exception could be taken.
Newby also surpasses Waugh--and indeed, most other travel writers--in another important respect: he's miraculously free of solipsism. Even the keenest literary voyagers tend to be, in the purest sense of the term, self-centered. But A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush includes wonderfully oblique portraits of the author's travel companion, Hugh Carless, and his wife, Wanda (who plays a starring role in such subsequent chronicles as Slowly down the Ganges). There are also dozens of brilliant cameo parts, and an indelible record of a stunning landscape. The roof of the world is, in Newby's rendering, both an absolute heaven and a low-oxygen hell. Yet the author never pretends to pit himself against a malicious Nature--his mountains are, in Frost's memorable phrase, too lofty and original to rage. Which is yet another reason to call this little masterpiece a peak performance. --James Marcus --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


'The master storyteller. He transformed travel writing' Independent 'One of the most enjoyable reads of the last century' Herald Tribune 'The most successful travel writer of his generation. It's impossible to read this book without laughing aloud' Observer 'Endlessly entertaining and self-deprecating' Daily Mail 'Full of serendipity and surprise' The Economist 'A total success' New Yorker 'Notable addition to the literature of unorthodox travel ... tough, extrovert, humorous and immensely literate' Times Literary Supplement '"A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush" established him as a traveler who not only journeyed fruitfully but had the ability to bring his readers with him' William Trevor, Guardian 'I still think the last few sentences of "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush" the funniest ending to any book I have read' Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Times 'The book that made [Newby's] reputation ... typically ironic in its understatement' Observer 'Newby is easily the best of the bunch' Sunday Times 'All the lyricism, and spirit of adventure and discovery [in] Newby's work' The Times 'As good as its hype' Wanderlust --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Staggeringly funny Jan. 17 2003
By Graymac
The idea is preposterous: two non-alpinists, one working in fashion design, the other a diplomat, decide to scale some of the hardest peaks in the world, in one of the nastiest, most remote corners of the globe. The resulting book is hysterical. It's been a couple of years since I last read it, yet I'm giggling again as I recall some specific passages. Fun, fast read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Staggeringly funny Jan. 17 2003
By Graymac
The idea is preposterous: two non-alpinists, one working in fashion design, the other a diplomat, decide to scale some of the hardest peaks in the world, in one of the nastiest, most remote corners of the globe. The resulting book is hysterical. It's been a couple of years since I last read it, yet I'm giggling again as I recall some specific passages. Fun, fast read.
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Quintessentially English bit of travel, with the ambitious idea of climbing Mir Samir in Afghanistan, but ostensibly to visit Nuristan next door. The English bit comes into play when you discover that Newby isn't a mountain climber, nor is his traveling friend. They "practice" for four days in Wales before embarking.
This is the type of travel literature I favor. A trip, yes, with its attendant hazards and foibles, but also a story about the travelers, why they travel and the people they meet. So far, I can sense a "difference" in travel writing, easily two categories now, but possibly many others. This book would join with Seth & O'Hanlon as a "Hardship Trip"--a journey filled in pain and danger. Salzman and Mayle are "Sedentary Travelers." They both got to the place, then stuck around and observed the things that happened around them. This book also has one of the best last lines I've read in quite a while. I can't quote it, because not only would it ruin the line for you in case you choose to read this book yourself, but also because it is necessary to sit through the 180 or so pages that go before to fully appreciate the irony of it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing Short of Excellent May 24 2002
Good travel narrative should begin with self awareness and, one would hope, a sharp wit on behalf of the writer. That's the entertainment half. It should end in a new appreciation of place and culture for the reader, the edifying part. A Short Walk In the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby delivers on all accounts. Though the "short" walk of the title took place circa 1956 and the book was published in 1958, it has special pertinence for the contemporary reader. The name of the mountain range translates as the "Killer of the Hindus," straddling Afghanistan and Nuristan, the wild vortex where cultures and powers have collided in attempts to bridge east and west for thousands of years. Most recently, of course, the region has figured in the war on terrorism. In fact, I have a much better grasp of the multicultural nature of the land and its political history from Newby's careful notes than from contemporary media.
Even if the Hindu Kush was irrelevant to latterday headlines, Newby's narrative is worthwhile reading. To explain why an urbane executive in the fashion industry would quit and suggest a trek in partly uncharted mountain range in a alien land, with no experience in mountain climbing, he begins with a hilarious account of his London job. He also speaks to that national urge to get off the island and go look about. His is a genuine yearning for exploration, for experiencing "the other." The trek, taken with a pal and some local guides, is often perilous. At the very end, the Newby party meets up with the embodiment of the stuffy military Brit who belittles their achievement. The author does not have to answer for the reader or himself-we know, as he does, that it was quite extraordinary.
Newby is great company, a fine writer who doesn't make the story about himself even when starring in it. Lonely Planet is to be thanked for keeping this in print.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A 20th Century travel classic Jan. 6 2000
They don't come sweeter than this. Facing middle age, Eric Newby abandons his chosen career as a fashion wholesaler to embark on a whimsical journey to remotest Afghanistan to attempt a mighty peak that has never been climbed. His companion, an old friend, knows as much about high-altitude (or ANY) climbing as he does: not a skerrick. They are almost parodies of a vanished England - absurdly brave, amateurish and uncomplaining; Newby's account of their scratchings up airy ice-walls will have the sweat springing from your palms. Along the way we get a rich insight into the rare mountain societies of one of the most mysterious nations on earth, but it is Newby's character itself that makes this book such a joy. Self-mocking, his courage entirely inferred, Newby's modesty holds until the final hilarious, appalling line. We may not want to go climbing with him, but we'd welcome his company on any journey. In fact, Newby's courage was always a key to his personality. His teenage years were spent as a high-rigging sailor on grain ships in the Southern Ocean. In World War Two he was a commando with the Special Boat Squadron. His capture, escape, and life on the run is memorably recounted in another of his classics "Love and War in the Appennines." But for me, "A Short Walk.." remains his most charming, exciting and extraordinary book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
but wish you could (if you could find good hotels, fresh food, etc). This trip is impossible in today's climate so read it as the armchair explorer -- and be thankful that Newby can describe what must have been unnerving encounters with a humor and flair that make one want to try the voyage anyway! (BTW: been there -- don't try it)
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Treasure
Approaching mid life and feeling restless in the world of London's fashion industry in the 1950s, Eric Newby asked a friend to go mountain climbing in the Hindu Kish. Read more
Published on April 1 2002 by "bcj222"
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice change of pace
I'm sure that this book had a different impact upon me than on readers who picked it up before the attacks of September 11 and the ensuing war in Afghanistan. Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Adventures in Afghanistan in happier times.
Eric Newby's account of his trip to the Hindu Kush is a book both daunting and delightful. He makes light of the incompetence and ignorance of both himself and his companion in the... Read more
Published on Sept. 25 2001 by W. Weinstein
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a good travel book
This book was really hard to keep my attention. I did not find it exciting at all and did not get emotionally attached. Read more
Published on April 21 2000 by alison gray
5.0 out of 5 stars A real hoot!
Eric Newby is really one of the greatest and wittiest of travel writers and this book beautifully demonstrates his cunning charm and humor. One of the travel classics!
Published on Aug. 30 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully amusing.
In A Short Walk, Eric Newby and companions manage to do everything wrong in order to climb a remote mountain in the Hindu Kush, which happens to be located in Afghanistan. Read more
Published on Jan. 3 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
This is one of the best travelogues I've ever read. It is an account of travel to a little known corner of Afghanistan, which in itself is little travelled. Read more
Published on Sept. 22 1998 by Vinay Krishnaswamy
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