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Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia

Empires of the Indus (original 2008; edition 2009)

by Alice Albinia

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143683,804 (3.94)17
Title:Empires of the Indus
Authors:Alice Albinia
Info:John Murray Publishers Ltd (2009), Paperback
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned
Tags:Pakistan, India, Indus, history, travel, Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism

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Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia (2008)



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This is a smart, engaging and beautiful story of a woman who explores the Indus River by foot and uncovers histories, stories and cultures. ( )
  ming.l | Mar 31, 2013 |
This is a complex, beautiful book by a bright, young-at-the-time writer. Albinia structures this combined history / travel book as a trip up the Indus from its mouth to its headwaters, and through its history from the present back to geological time. She researched the river's history and prepared for her trip for a year before going, and that investment shows: she journeys to truly obscure places, and knows what to look for when she gets there, so the account is rich. Other reviewers have described her as fearless; she travels through parts of Pakistan where most Europeans would fear to tread, and with only one or two local contacts as an escort. On the other hand, her own personality is unobtrusive; her narrative keeps the spotlight on the people she meets, the land, and the history.

Overall, it is a fascinating but not cheerful book (although you can sense the pleasure she takes in the people she meets). The Indus, most of which is now in Pakistan, has a rich, complex history, and one of the main themes of the book is the way different cultures and traditions have shaped each other over the years - and before modern times, co-existed. Another theme is the degree to which modernity, in the form of religious fundamentalism and economic pressures, is sweeping away many of the cultural, archeological, and ecological relics of the Indus' long past. Albinia's approach to her material is analytical, poised, and fiercely intelligent, but by the end of her travels she seems on the verge of an emotional crash. She speculates that this is in part a reaction to high elevation, but it may also be the result of engaging with cultures on their own terms while simultaneously maintaining a wry, critical eye that doesn't look away from the squalor and injustice she encounters. Overall, this is a fantastic book to deepen one's understanding and appreciation of Pakistan and the Indus valley, if not to give much hope for its future. ( )
2 vote bezoar44 | Jan 22, 2013 |
I give this book a three star because it has been well written. Alice Albinia certainly seems to have been a brave woman, traveling up and down the Indus, and writing the history of the river around the various places in the river.

The concept is interesting, and so is the history. I also like the concerns and issues that she has pointed out, with respect to the damming of the river. We, as a race of animal, seem to be really good at the task of killing our environment and our rivers.

The book is terrible as a travelogue. There is almost nothing about the places that she has visited, nothing that gives you a sense of space.

As a history book, this is very good indeed ( )
  RajivC | Aug 31, 2012 |
A wonderfully gifted writer. I was amazed at the sheer depth of preception from Alice Albinia. Its true the narritave is about mainly about the indus itself but the book reveals so much more about the land, history, society, economy, its people customs and the intricate relationship which weaves this fabric together.

This is a very unbiased history of a comparatively small corner of the subcontinent from which its easy to extrapolate the essence of being in the sub continent.

As mentioned in the previous reviews it also takes a lot of grit and determination to travel to all the places which are so rugged and lawless within pakistan and further afield. However what is more surprising is how much she is able to extract out of the local people about the land and its history & customs. ( )
1 vote THE_ROCK | Sep 15, 2010 |
This is a remarkable book in so many ways. The first thing that I loved was the structure; as Albinia moves geographically up the Indus valley, she goes back in history. Hence the first chapter describes Karachi and deals with Partition in 1947, and the last chapter is set in Tibet at the source of the Indus and explores the prehistory of the region five million years ago.

The other aspect of this book that cannot fail to impress is Albinia's own part in the book. From her sheer guts (e.g. travelling to areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan where I would not dream of going even as a Pakistani woman), to the painstaking depth of her research, to her ability to expose the failings of the authorities while maintaining an impartial respect and fondness for the people on both sides of the Indus, this is an impressive book. But what makes it truly outstanding is the emotional connection she feels to the history and culture of this region and the indignation that she feels regarding their erosion:

"The Atharva Veda calls the Indu 'saraansh': flowing for ever. One day, when there is nothing but dry riverbeds and dust, when this ancient name has been rendered obsolete, then the songs humans sing will be dirges of bitterness and regret. They will tell of how the Indus -- which once 'encircled Paradise', bringing forth civilizations and species, languages and religions -- was, through mankind's folly, entirely spent."

If only we South Asians cared so much ourselves. ( )
4 vote mariamreza | Mar 22, 2010 |
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Describes the turbulent history of the Indus River, one of the largest in the world, presenting a historical narrative of the people and civilizations that have lived along its banks in Tibet, India, and Pakistan through time.

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