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A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (Eric Newby, 1958, 1981)

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ISBN 0-3302-6623-3


Further Reading

By the Same Author

Similar Writing


Having completed an apprenticeship before the sails of a Finnish barque, shipping grain, and various daring and romantic exploits during World War II, Eric Newby took up an improbable career in the women's fashion industry - a brief account of which comprises the equally improbable beginning to A Short Walk. From the first quirky chapters, the book runs a short gamut of different though consistently amusing styles ...

'There had been no news of Hugh at the Embassy, but before sinking into a coma of fatigue, we both uttered a prayer that he would be delayed.

'Early on the following morning he was battering on our door. He had just arrived by air and was aggressively fit and clean. Between his teeth was a Dunhill pipe in which some luxurious mixture was burning; under his arm was a clip board full of maps and lists. His clothes had just the right mixture of the elegant and the dashing. He was the epitome of a young explorer. We knew what he would say. It was an expression that we were to hear with ever-increasing revulsion in the weeks to come.

'"We must leave at once."' - p. 44

... before settling down to the steadier narrative of the trek itself.

'Nuristan, "The Country of Light", is a mountainous territory in the north-east of Afghanistan, ... walled in on every side by the most formidable mountains. To the north by the main Hindu Kush range, which is the watershed between the Oxus and the deserts of Central Asia and the Indus and the rivers that flow into the Indian Ocean [he could do with some better sentence construction here!]; to the north-east by the Bashgul range, eastwards of the river of that name; to the east and south-east its boundary is the Kunar river to its junction with the Kabul river ...' - p. 84

You get the picture. Or, rather, unless your Middle Eastern geography is a whole lot better than mine, you don't. Physical geography is difficult enough to put into words, anyway, and although he is an engaging writer, Newby's technical skill with the language is too poor for this sort of thing. Nevertheless, with the aid of some grainy black-and-white photographs he very successfully communicates the flavour of the surroundings, and it is into this fantastically shattered landscape that he disappears with his companion, the occasionally insufferable Hugh, and a variable selection of obnoxious and grafting locals. Eventually the pair begin to close with their destination, the summit of Mir Samir:

'But as we advanced, the ridge became more and more narrow, and eventually we emerged on to a perfect knife edge. Ahead, but separated from us by two formibible buttresses, was the summit, a simple cone of snow as high as Box Hill. ... The view was colossal. Below us on every side mountains surged away it seemed forever; we looked down on glaciers and snow-covered peaks that perhaps no one has ever seen before, except from the air.' - p. 180

The final quarter or so of the book is devoted to trek back out, following their assault on the peak, and for my money this is perhaps the most engaging part of the book. Certainly it is no after-thought; some of the most difficult country challenges them here and it is here, also, that I found the narrative to be at its most sympathetic with the local people.

Recommendation: Well written and engaging. Recommended.

Look and Feel: My edition is the usual matt-finish paperback. Photographs are b&w, and the reproduction rather grainy.

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