We had a very interesting afternoon in the company of Hugh Andrew, MD at Birlinn Ltd. Aside from a conversation about e-book publishing, which I would love to follow up with him at some point, Mr. Andrew spoke about a brilliant and well written book that despite several resurrections by several different publishers, has never been successful. Is a good book one that is successful or one that is well written? The book in question was Peter Fleming’s (yes, brother of Ian) News from Tartary. I checked out Amazon this evening and although they don’t carry the book, it is possible to buy the Birlinn edition from a list of other sellers. A new copy will set you back £38.99 plus postage and the best price for a secondhand copy was £15.63 plus postage. I think I will check out the library first as I am always nervous buying secondhand books online. Or perhaps this is the perfect excuse to spend a lovely week scouring bookshops.
And because I create (and sometimes invent) mini-obsessions as a displacement tactic, the reason I won’t be able to finish my two assignments this week is because I have to find this book or die.
Here is the Birlinn back cover:
THERE IS NOT much to say about this book by way of introduction. It describes an undeservedly successful attempt to travel overland from Peking in China to Kashmir in India. The journey took seven months and covered about 3,500 miles…With masterly understatement Peter Fleming begins this account of what is one of the true epics of adventure. With his companion, Eva Maillart, and motivated largely by curiosity, they set out across a China torn by civil war to journey through Sinkiang to British India. It had been eight years since a traveller had crossed Sinkiang; in between times those who had entered this inhospitable and politically volatile area seldom left alive. This, China’s most westerly province, was under the control of a rebel warlord supported by Stalin’s Red Army. Within it there was yet further civil war and the southern oases through which Fleming and Maillart had to travel were under the control of yet another rebel force. Entering the province by a little known and almost lethal route and following the path of the Silk Road, they ended up in Kashgar before crossing the Pamirs to India. Beautifully written and superbly observed, this is not simply a superb account of a part of the world few of us will ever see, but also a marvellous insight into the last days of the Great Game, when Britain and Russia still faced each other across a Central Asia in a state of anarchy. It is a magnificent travelogue by one of the last and greatest adventures of Empire.