Ella Maillart and the English journalist Peter Fleming undertake an astounding trek through some of the least known parts of the globe: From the Koko Nor to Central Asia, via the Tsaidam plateau, the Takla Makan desert, the Tarim basin, and from Kashgar across the Karakoram into Hunza. When they leave Peking, Japan is trying to crush a China devastated by civil war. With Peter Fleming, she maps out an unauthorized itinerary that no westerner seems to have followed since. The book is an account of seven risky months spent in solitary, windswept places where great civilisations once rubbed shoulders, visible to those who know how to decipher bleached bones and ancient ruins. Never again will the western provinces of China be seen in that way. The book was published in 1937 and has since been frequently reprinted, re-read and admired for the courage and talent of its author, for the accuracy of her observations and for her narrative gift.
A classic account of a trip through China during the golden age of travel
In 1935 Ella Maillart contemplated one of the most arduous journeys in the world: the "impossible journey" from Peking, then a part of Japanese-occupied China, through the distant province of Sinkiang (present day Tukestan), to Kashmir. Enlisting with newswriter Peter Fleming (with the caveat that his company remain tolerable), Maillart undertook a journey considered almost beyond imagination for any European and doubly so for a woman. The trip promised hardships such as typhus and bandits, as well as the countless hazards surrounding the civil war between Chinese communists and Chiang Kai-shek's nationalists. Setting out with pockets full of Mexican money (the currency used in China at the time), Maillart encountered a way of life now lost, but one that then had gone unchanged for centuries.
Maillart describes it all with the sharp eye and unvarnished prose of a veteran reporter-the missionaries and rogues, parents binding daughters' feet with rags, the impatient Fleming lighting fires under stubborn camels. It's a hard road, not that Maillart cares. At all times she is a witty, always-enchanted guide-except when it comes to bureaucrats.
Forbidden Journey ranks among other travel narratives like Fleming's News from Tartary, (based on the same journey) and Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana. But it is also a portrait of a fascinating woman, one of many women from the pre-WWII era who ignored convention and traveled in hidden lands. It remains a vivid account of its time and a classic of travel literature.
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:45 -0400)