- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: Modern Library; New edition edition (July 24 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375757465
- ISBN-13: 978-0375757464
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.8 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 386 g
- Average Customer Review: 24 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #140,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark Paperback – Jul 24 2001
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"[Geniesse] has achieved, in the end, an admirable focus, at once critical and sympathetic. The portrait that emerges is a subtle and generous one. For all Stark’s unresolved contradictions, … her distinction as a latter-day woman of letters survives." New York Times Book Review
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#8212;traveler, explorer, Arabist, and woman of lettersbegan the extraordinary adventures that would glamorize herand would catapult her into public life for the next sixty yearsin 1927. And with the publication of The Valley of the Assassins in 1934, her legend was launched.
Leaving behind a miserable family life, Freya set out, at the age of thirty-four, to explore remote and dangerous regions of the Middle East. She was captured in 1927 by the French military police after penetrating their cordon around the rebellious Druze. She explored the mountainous territory of the mysterious Assassins of Persia, became the first woman to explore Luristan in western Iran, and followed ancient frankincense routes to locate a lost city. Admired by British officialdom, her knowledge of Middle Eastern languages and culture aided the military and diplomatic corps, for whom she conceived an effective propaganda network during WWII.
But Starks indomitable spirit w
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Drowning in the despair of a dead-end future and smarting after a broken engagement, Freya decides to embark on a journey to the Middle East and from that moment establishes the course of an adventurous and remarkable life. Having studied Arabic and arming herself with as much knowledge as possible about the people she is going to visit, Freya sets out to explore the mysteries of an often misunderstood people. Often with little else than a donkey and one guide, Freya would visit the remotest, most dangerous places of countries like Yemen and Iraq in search of lost civilizations and ancient ruins. Braving illnesses and occassional mishaps, her attempts prove fruitful as she is able to test the accuracy of British maps; and in proving herself a talented writer of her experiences, she is honored by the Royal Geographic Society. In time her successes win her the respect of both East and West and she becomes a hailed celebrity in her native Great Britain.
Leading a colorful life while making and breaking friendships, Freya is eventually given work with the British Foreign Service during World War II and manages to establish a successful pro-British propoganda organization in the Middle East. Having proven herself an invaluable asset to her country, Ms. Stark is eventually knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
Author Jane Fletcher Geniesse writes an honest account of this great traveler, neither glorifying or demonizing her. We are allowed to see Dame Freya as she truly is: a remarkable woman with all the quirks that make her human. Reading this book was an absolute pleasure and how wonderful to learn about such a courageous woman who did whatever the hell she pleased! To borrow from reviewer Jim Lehrer, "Passionate Nomad is a work of nonfiction that reads and sings with the drama and life of a fine novel".
But if her public life was a roaring success, the private life was notably less so. Two amusing chapters concern the "three foolish virgins" (about an episode in 1937-38, when Stark and two female scholars went off to Yemen) and her only marriage (at age 54) to a man who very soon after the wedding revealed his homosexuality (or rather, she could no longer pretend not to see it). In general, with the advancement of Stark's career, her biography becomes more interesting. But early or late, the evocation of a world only sixty years back but so removed from ours in its rhythms and its concerns - with the intense letter writing, the extended visits to country houses, and the imperatives of empire - will keep the attention of every reader.
Middle East Quarterly, December 1999
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