Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark (Modern Library Paperbacks)

Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark (Modern Library Paperbacks)

Jane Fletcher Geniesse

Language: English

Pages: 410

ISBN: 0375757465

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Freya Stark—traveler, explorer, Arabist, and woman of letters—began the extraordinary adventures that would glamorize her—and would catapult her into public life for the next sixty years—in 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 Stark’s indomitable spirit was forged by contradictions, her high-profile wanderings often masking deep insecurities. A child of privilege, she grew up in near poverty; she longed for love, but consistently focused on the wrong men. This is a brilliant and balanced biography—filled with sheikhs, diplomats, nomad warriors and chieftains, generals, would be lovers, and luminaries. Author Jane Geniesse digs beneath the mythology to uncover a complex, quixotic, and controversial woman.

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prepared to aid even the smallest in the stand against tyranny. At the time the Greek dictator Metaxas had turned down British help so as not to provoke a German invasion. Wavell, his troops and supplies exhausted, had been relieved. As he had told Freya earlier, he had “no men to spare.” But then Metaxas died, killed by overwork and a heart attack—although some say poisoned—and his successor reopened the question of British relief. Churchill, forever interfering with his generals, decided that

romances and hopes. Accompanied by an alternating cast of godchildren, with one hauling her false-bottomed suitcase lest some morsel of antiquity be denied her by customs and another in charge of her “monstrously heavy Remington typewriter,”13 Freya variously guided them to the Greek island of Skyros to mourn at Rupert Brooke’s grave, dragooned archaeologists to walk them over the Acropolis, roused them in the middle of the night to see dawn break over Troy, and ministered to their hangovers in

establish some credentials in the region if she were to find a role there. After all, Gertrude Bell’s route to government service had been through published expertise, so it is easy to imagine that Freya hoped a similar avenue might open up for her. In any event, her article impressed Cornhill’s editor, Dr. Leonard Huxley, who was willing to honor Freya’s reluctance to reveal her real name.1 He evidently agreed that it might jeopardize future travel for her in Syria if the French authorities knew

course the Aga Khan’s letters on her behalf would open a number of important doors. In the meantime Freya hied herself off to the British Museum to refresh herself on the history of the Isma’ili, Druze, and Assassin cults. Buried in the silence of the vast reading room, she was crestfallen to learn that accounts by nearly fifty travelers on the Jebel Druze already existed. “I wonder if there is anything left not written about,” she mused. “The only thing not over done is thinking.”15 She decided

in the rear. They all greeted us. “God give you strength,” we said as we passed, which is the correct thing to say; and they were lost again in the mist.4 In another scene from The Valleys of the Assassins, she described the villagers of Shahristan, who might have been South Sea islanders before the days of Captain Cook so little were they influenced by … contacts with civilization. They rushed to me as if I were a circus. Twenty times or more I was asked to stand up on a roof to show myself

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