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Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark

Geniesse, Jane Fletcher

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ISBN 10: 0394583965 / ISBN 13: 9780394583969
Published by Random House, New York, NY, 1999
Condition: Very good Hardcover
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xvii, [9], 402, [4] p. Illustrations. Maps. Books by Freya Stark. Bibliography. Notes. Index. Illustration Credits. From Wikipedia: "Dame Freya Madeline Stark (Mrs Stewart Perowne), DBE (born 31 January 1893 in Paris, France; died 9 May 1993 in Asolo, Italy) was a British explorer and travel writer. She wrote more than two dozen books on her travels in the Middle East and Afghanistan, as well as several autobiographic works and essays. She was one of the first non-Arabians to travel through the southern Arabian deserts. During World War I she worked as a nurse in Italy, [5] where her mother had remained and taken a share in a business. Her sister Vera married the co-owner. In November 1927 she visited Asolo for the first time in years. Later that month she boarded a ship for Beirut, where her travels in the East began. She stayed first at the home of James Elroy Flecker in Lebanon, then in Baghdad, Iraq (then a British protectorate), where she met the British high commissioner. By 1931 she had completed three dangerous treks into the wilderness of western Iran, parts of which no Westerner had ever visited, and had located the long-fabled Valleys of the Assassins (Hashshashins). She described these explorations in The Valleys of the Assassins (1934). In 1935 she travelled to the Hadhramaut, the hinterland of southern Arabia, where only a handful of Western explorers had previously ventured, never as far or as widely as she went. [8] She published her account of the region in three books, The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut (1936), Seen In The Hadhramaut (1938) and A Winter in Arabia (1940). During World War II she joined the British Ministry of Information, and contributed to the creation of the propaganda network Ikhwan al Hurriya ('Brotherhood of Freedom') aimed at persuading Arabs to support the Allies or at least remain neutral. [9] These wartime experiences were described in her Letters from Syria (1942) and East is West (1945). In 1947, at the age of 54, she married Stewart Perowne, a British administrator and historian. [10] The couple did not have children, and separated in 1952 (but did not divorce). During these years she wrote nothing on travel and exploration, but published a volume of miscellaneous essays, Perseus in the Wind (1948) and three volumes of autobiography, Traveller's Prelude (1950), Beyond Euphrates. Autobiography 1928-1933 (1951) and The Coast of Incense. Autobiography 1933-1939 (1953). Stewart Perowne died in 1989. Her first extensive travels after the war were in Turkey, which were the basis of her books Ionia a Quest (1954), The Lycian Shore (1956), Alexander's Path (1958) and Riding to the Tigris (1959). After this she continued her memoirs with Dust in the Lion's Paw. Autobiography 1939-1946 (1961), and published a history of Rome on the Euphrates: The Story of a Frontier (1966) and another collection of essays, The Zodiac Arch (1968). The last expedition of her old age was to Afghanistan; and in 1970 she published The Minaret of Djam: An Excursion into Afghanistan. In her retirement at Asolo, apart from a short survey, Turkey: A Sketch of Turkish History (1971), she busied herself by putting together a new collection of essays, A Peak in Darien (1976), and preparing selections of her Letters (8 volumes, 1974-82; one volume, Over the rim of the world: selected letters, 1982) and of her travel writings, The Journey's Echo (1988). She died at Asolo on 9 May 1993, a few months after her hundredth birthday. First edition. First edition [stated]. Presumed first printing. Bookseller Inventory # 66481

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark

Publisher: Random House, New York, NY

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition: Very good

Dust Jacket Condition: very good

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


With the publication of The Valley of the Assassins in 1934, a legend was launched. Freya Stark had begun the extraordinary adventures that would glamorize her, though distinctly unglamorous, as the last of the great travelers. Hailed as a classic, the book chronicled her travels in remote and dangerous regions of the Middle East, inspiring Lawrence of Arabia to call the audacious, ambitious Freya "a gallant creature."
Her reputation had begun in 1927, when she was captured by 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 the ancient frankincense routes to locate a lost city.
At first a thorn in the side of the British colonial establishment for consorting with "wogs," Freya was later extravagantly admired by officialdom. Her knowledge of Middle Eastern languages and life aided the military and diplomatic corps, for whom she conceived an effective propaganda network during World War II.
Throughout her long life--she died in 1993, over a hundred years old, having been knighted at age eighty-two by the Queen--she rejoiced in the attentions of the press and of her audiences. In private she remarked that she put herself in harm's way in order not to fear death.
Her indomitable spirit was forged by contradictions. A child of privilege, she grew up in near poverty after her mother rashly allied herself with an Italian count in a rug manufacturing venture. She yearned for a formal education but was largely self-taught, mastering seven languages. She longed for love but consistently focused on the wrong men. She was thirty-four before she extricated herself from her family and embarked on the travels that would make her reputation. Her astonishing career lasted over sixty years, during which she produced twenty-two books unmatched for perception and poetic prose.
This is a brilliant, balanced biography, rich in sheikhs, diplomats, nomad warriors and chieftains, generals, would-be lovers, and luminaries, with author Jane Fletcher Geniesse digging beneath the mythology to uncover a complex, quixotic, and controversial woman.


Never mind that upon her death in 1993, the then 100-year-old Dame Freya Stark rated a three-column obit in The New York Times. Mention her name to most Americans, and it will elicit a "Freya who?" The tales and travails of this romantic traveler, who marched alone into the Middle East from Persia to Yemen, discovering lost cities and creating an anti-Nazi intelligence system along the way, are captured in this compelling biography by former New York Times reporter Jane Fletcher Geniesse.

The author unveils not the fearless wanderer whose mappings and 30 books brought Stark awards from the likes of the Royal Geographical Society and made her a darling of British society. Instead Stark is seen as humble, insecure, and forever caught in the role of perpetual alien--be it when the English-born child grows up in Italy, where her mother lives in scandal, or when she plunges alone into the East, a feat never before accomplished by a Westerner.

An unwilling iconoclast whose love of travel, she would say, began as an infant when her father carried her in a basket over the Dolomites, Stark longed for the social security of the times: marriage and children. Proposals fell through, on occasion her beloved was married, or the romantic emotions she felt went unrequited--and besides, as a friend later pointed out, marriage would have spoiled her with its confinements. Rising above depression, self-imposed ostracism, and her numerous illnesses, Stark learned Arabic and how to climb mountains, map, partake in geographical digs, and find a niche in strange cultures.

Initially ridiculed for her passionate fondness of the Middle East, her writings ultimately generated vast interest for that mysterious part of the world, where she was surprisingly embraced, made privy to political movements closed to most foreigners, and even shown precious Islamic documents. At times a nurse, a war correspondent, a negotiator, Stark was a one-woman revolution of her time. Geniesse's intoxicating documentation of her life not only serves to stir up new interest in Stark's many books; it also ensures that the name Freya Stark will live on long after her obituary is but a scrap of yellowed, crackling newsprint. --Melissa Rossi

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