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Robert Byron (1905–1941)

Autor(a) de The Road to Oxiana

16+ Works 1,609 Membros 19 Reviews 4 Favorited

About the Author

Robert Byron serving as a correspondent for a London newspaper during World War II

Obras de Robert Byron

Associated Works

The Norton Book of Travel (1987) — Contribuinte — 112 cópias, 1 resenha
Articles of War: "Spectator" Book of World War II (1989) — Contribuinte — 23 cópias
Little Innocents: Childhood Reminiscences (1932) — Contribuinte — 9 cópias
Wassmuss : "the German Lawrence" (1936) — Contributory photographer — 4 cópias


Conhecimento Comum



This is a hard one to review. It's certainly not going to be a travel book embraced by a lot of people; it has a lot of detailed descriptions of Islamic architecture for which you must have some background, or like I did, look up the buildings on the Internet so I could see photos. If you take the time to do that, you'll no doubt be impressed with the masterpieces built in the 14th through 15th centuries, what Byron calls their Renaissance.

It was never quite clear to me why he was so obsessed with seeing the Oxus river. Perhaps because it was so inaccessible to Westerners? He had to deal with mistrust by the Afghanis, some of whom thought he was an English spy wanting to map the southern Russian border (which is Turkmenistan these days).

Its most entertaining entries (it is written in diary form) have to do with people, the landscape, and the almost endless obstacles to travel in a remote part of the world. Hired lorries swept away in flooded rivers, or primitive living arrangements, for instance.

Toward the end of his journey, he comes across the Buddhas of Bamiyan. After being stunned by the beauty of the mosques of Persia and northwest Afghanistan, he is harsh in his critique, calling them primitive and not having any artistic value -- only historical. These enormous stone (although he calls them compressed gravel) sculptures were blown up by the Taliban in March of 2001, some sixty plus years after his visit.
… (mais)
nog | outras 12 resenhas | Aug 16, 2021 |
In 1933, Robert Byron and his friend Christopher Sykes set off on a long-anticipated journey to Turkestan. Chinese Turkestan and Russian Turkestan were closed to them, so they headed of for Afghanistan. The Oxiana of the title is the part of Afghanistan on the River Oxus, near the Russian border. Byron was in search of the history of Islamic architecture, while Christopher, as history, not Byron, tells us, was a spy.

Byron is a supercilious, irascible, opinionated bundle of enthusiasm. He has recorded some madly entertaining conversations with local politicians and other head men, complete with musical notations to show volume.

You'd have to be more interested than I am in the history of Islamic architecture to get the most out of this book, but I enjoyed it all the same.
… (mais)
pamelad | outras 12 resenhas | Dec 14, 2019 |
Reading a bit of back story on Robert Byron along with this book, it seems he was once met, never forgotten. Expelled from Oxford for his 'rebellious and hedonistic ways', he evidently was fascinating and tiresome in equal measure. Labelled as one of the 'Brideshead generation' by a number of biographers, he was unapologetically snobbish and outspoken, often full of vitriol for places and people so often revered by others. 13 years after his death, Evelyn Waugh was quoted as saying "It is not yet the time to say so but I greatly disliked Robert in his last years & think he was a dangerous lunatic better off dead."

It is his character that makes his writing in this iconic travel book all the more wonderful. The success of this book is the very thing that got him sent down from Oxford - his natural recklessness and single-mindedness. Although only 27 when he embarked on this trip through the Middle East, Byron had firm surety in himself, his social position and his travel goals, and as a result had gumption in spades.

Travel through 1930s Persia and Afghanistan was not for the faint-hearted. To begin with, political tensions in the Middle East were... well, tense. Whilst political facts could be bad enough, the rumours were almost always worse, therefore paranoia and suspicion abounded wherever he went. Byron's travel progress was often hampered by the bureaucracy of waiting for letters to be sent here and there so he had permission to travel, and managing guards who were regularly sent to escort him to ensure he didn't take photographs or infringe any other supposed priceless intellectual property they imagined he was going to make away with. This was all handled with brilliant abject disregard by Byron which was comedy gold. Dealing often with armed and potentially volatile locals, it's impossible not to admire his total chutzpah. He was so intent on his travel goals that no one or no thing was going to get in his way, and with an old-fashioned British colonial attitude he bulldozed through any resistance he encountered. For sure he was prejudiced in many of his opinions which would not be acceptable by 21st century standards, but I took that as an interestingly honest window to social thought and class divide from a bygone era.

In addition to the political hurdles, Byron encountered numerous physical hurdles on his journey, from perilous overhangs to weak bridges made extra lethal by floods of biblical proportions. En route axles broke on cars and lorries skidded towards the edge of precipices, and when destinations were reached there were mosquitos and bed bugs and difficult hosts to deal with. What I loved most about this book was Byron being Byron. All of these were minor trifles and inconveniences which he hardly took under his notice, such was his fascination with the physical natural beauty he encountered and the architectural wonder of the archaeological sites he visited. He was almost a parody of that upper-class no-nonsense British gentleman seen in so many black and white movies, and his intolerance for annoyances is recounted with superb dry wit.

My own travels in the Middle East have been limited to those of the touristy type in Israel and Egypt, therefore I read The Road to Oxiana with a profound sense of regret that my limited personal knowledge of Iran and Afghanistan - so tainted by the news headlines - means I can never appreciate this book to the fullness that it deserves. It would be wonderful to be able to compare the sights Byron saw with one's own experiences, but like many readers I am limited to the power of Google, which at least I should be grateful for. Various civil wars in the Middle East over the past few decades have meant that sadly a number of the archaeological sites Byron visited have now been destroyed, such as the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, dating from the 6th century, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 for being 'heretical idols'. I don't think Byron would be too upset though. Describing them he said:

"Neither has any artistic value. But one could bear that; it is their negation of sense, the lack of any pride in their monstrous flaccid bulk, that sickens. Even their material is unbeautiful, for the cliff is made, not of stone, but of compressed gravel. A lot of monastic navvies were given picks and told to copy some frightful semi-Hellenistic image from India or China. The result has not even the dignity of labour."

Such is Byron - say what you think.

I admit to glazing over a little at times when he went into over-detail of some of the architecture he encountered on his travels, but overall this book was a wonderful armchair ride, not only into an unknown (for me) land but also into a past era. Interestingly, many of the sites Byron visited were already in ruins, destroyed by previous conflicts and mad men in previous centuries, and he describes many times unprecedented weather patterns. I couldn't help but ponder that observed with modern eyes we would approach this with a completely different attitude, theorising to the nth degree until we convince ourselves that this is all evidence of us being on the peak of self-destruction. Alternatively, perhaps such events have happened since the beginning of time and are simply part of the crazy circle of life here in Earth.*

*Before anyone shoots me down, I do know that climate change is a thing... I'm just noting that Byron encountered many crazy weather patterns which were more extreme than anything that had been seen for a very long time, and they just took it for what it was - the unpredictability of Mother Earth.

4 stars - a wonderful and amusing experience (for to read this book is to feel like you've had a travel experience).
… (mais)
3 vote
AlisonY | outras 12 resenhas | Dec 5, 2019 |
It has taken me too long to get this deservedly classic travel book. Classic in the jargon sense of famous and also because the author displays his classic education with ease and enthusiasm. Robert Byron took the hippie trail to the east thirty years before it came into being. The travellers of the 60s sought oriental enlightenment, drugs and new experiences. Mr Byron went in search of Persian architecture and a glimpse of the Oxus river. A well tempered voyager with a sense of humour, an observant eye and a descriptive turn of phrase. Good company to keep.… (mais)
Steve38 | outras 12 resenhas | Nov 19, 2016 |



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