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The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut (Modern Library Paperbacks) Paperback – July 24, 2001

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The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut (Modern Library Paperbacks) + The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels (Modern Library Paperbacks) + Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark (Modern Library Paperbacks)
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (July 24, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375757546
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375757549
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #822,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1934, a 42-year-old Englishwoman named Freya Stark arrived in the British-governed Protectorate of Aden on a singular mission: to locate the fabled, long-lost city of Shabwa.

Located on the high Hadramaut plateau in what is now Yemen, Shabwa was renowned in antiquity as the source of frankincense. Little visited even then, it was also thought to be a particularly forbidding place; Genesis mentions it as the "enclosure of death," and the Roman geographer Pliny reported that it contained 60 great temples and wealth beyond measure. That was good enough for Stark, who, having not long before made a difficult passage across the badlands of Iran, thrived on improbable adventures. And so, by burro and whatever mechanical conveyances she could find, she ascended the high mountains into a world that was sometimes perilous, but that also sometimes approached fairy-tale dimensions, as when, climbing the Hadramaut, she writes, "The path kept high and open, until gradually the valley clefts narrowed again upon us, and shut us in walls whose luxuriant green made a romantic landscape of the kind usually only invented in pictures."

Stark never reached Shabwa; laid low by measles, she had to be evacuated from territory overrun in any event by warring religious factions and gangs of bandits. Though cut short, her time in the Yemeni highlands yielded this superb travel narrative, full of uncommon vistas and milieus (harems, bazaars, and Bedouin camps among them). Anyone who values tales of adventure well told will find Stark's body of work--and this book in particular--to be full of treasures. --Gregory McNamee


[Freya Stark] writes angelically in the great tradition of Charles Doughty and T. E. Lawrence. The pulse quickens as you read, because she can bring the sights and sounds of incredible countries before you in the twinkling of an eye."
--The New York Times Book Review

"[The Valleys of the Assassins] remains a wonderful description of a people and a place, altered today by Progress, perhaps, but through [Freya Stark's] eyes still alive with bandits, dervishes, idol worshippers, armed tribesmen, and mountain scenery of great beauty."
--From the Introduction by Jane Fletcher Geniesse

"Stark is constantly alive to her immediate surroundings: indeed, what gives her work its extraordinary depth and power is just this ability to focus past and present... stereoscopically, in a single image."
--Times Literary Supplement [London]

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Customer Reviews

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I would recommend this book to everyone across the world who has an interest in brilliant commentary.
Jim F. Baughman
This book will appeal to anyone who is curious about other peoples, other lands and other times or who enjoys good writing.
Jon R. Schlueter
This appendix would have been well-placed as a foreword to this book, serving to establish her motivation and objective.
Sir Charles Panther

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
In 1934, Freya Stark determined that she would follow the ancient frankincense routes through the fertile Hadhramaut valley to locate and record what was left of the legendary lost city of Shabwa. In 1936 she published _The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut_ which, as did many of her thirty-odd books, became a best seller. It is now republished by the Modern Library, and is a welcome reminder of a brave, erudite, and witty explorer. The current volume has as an introduction a capsule description of Stark's life by her biographer, Jane Fletcher Geniesse. Born in 1892, Stark was only able to indulge in travel in her thirties; she realized that there was a hunger for knowledge about exotic Arabia, and she schooled herself in the language and history of the area, through which she traveled by foot, car, donkey, and camel well into her eighties. She lived to be 101.
The explorations of these exotic lands are rendered now more strange and lovely by time. Few of us will get to see the lands Stark loved, but we will never see them as she did. For most of the steps along the trail described in this book, Stark was the first European woman to come that way, and that she did so unaccompanied by a European escort gave the Bedouin, the learned men, and the sultans something to admire and wonder at. One who thought himself a leader of her group attempted to exclude her by bringing her meals to a separate area. "He was showing a Victorian disapproval of females who do not keep themselves to themselves, a thing I find dull and difficult to do." She finds that she very much likes being in the middle of the group, even as an outsider.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Sir Charles Panther VINE VOICE on February 28, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book absolutely fascinating as it described a time, only 70-odd years ago, when there truly were unexplored reaches, where legend and history still co-existed, and where a culturally sensitive and aware, and properly respectful traveler could find peaceful and fulfilling adventure. This book is even more interesting now, given the changes in the Middle East in the past ten years. Can one imagine making the same kind of journey in Yemen now? Of course not; it would almost be suicide. That time has long since been destroyed, everything about this book but its pure physical setting gone, so this memoir is even more poignant and compelling.

Stark has an eye for detail, as jaundiced as it is with the unavoidable Orientalism of her time and socio-cultural context. This can be forgiven/overlooked, and she's a lot more fair and obliging when describing those she encounters than the majority of her contemporaries. She's at her best when describing the landscapes she is encountering, the stark desert and wadis, the unexpected lushness of the oases and tucked-away mountain crevices where all the shades of green burst forth.

More than anything, what comes through in this book is Stark's grace and abiding respect for the people she meets. She has taken the time to learn their language, and is familiar with their culture, and takes pains to encounter them in terms that will make them comfortable. She does not attempt to bend anyone to a Western European point of view. This is not to say she is subservient or fawning; she most certainly stands up for herself when it is required. But throughout the book and on this journey, her continued success comes from her honesty tinged with her respect for the region and the people with whom she is interacting.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jon R. Schlueter on February 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
As a Christian worker in China, I had first-hand opportunity to see how we "foreigners" interacted cross-culturally. (Usually, the most successful of us were those who were not on a Mission from God.) Having seen people badly suited to live abroad and admiring those who were very able to do so, the joy of this book by Freya Stark was reading about a woman operating cross-culturally with a world-class ability to encounter persons with a much different backround than her own. Her sheer delight in her Bedouin companions is vicariously enjoyable.
Of course, this book journeys not just across cultures but across times, beginning with the author's introduction, which discusses the antiquity of the regioun she explores, especially in the time of great trade in frankincense, which made the region, for a time, wealthy. It is also reflected in the ancient culture and historical monuments and artifacts the author encounters.
Moreover, Freya Stark writes (wrote) beautifully. This book will appeal to anyone who is curious about other peoples, other lands and other times or who enjoys good writing.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bob Newman VINE VOICE on January 27, 2004
Format: Paperback
Trekking over the desolate, rocky plateau that lies between the coast and the interior valleys of Hadhramaut, Freya Stark travelled in 1935 with a group of Bedu and a government slave-soldier. The area has been known as Aden Protectorate, the Qu'aiti State of Shihr and Makalla, South Arabia, the People's Democratic Republic of South Yemen, and is now part of united Yemen. She visited several of the interior towns, almost never seen by Europeans at that time (though the RAF did maintain a presence), and has written beautiful descriptions of the unusual physical environment as well as a kind and sympathetic treatment of the people she met. She talked in Arabic with the ladies of the harim as well as with the rulers, scholars, and ordinary men of the communities. Stark aimed to travel to Shabwa, a long-lost ancient city much further in the interior of the Arabian peninsula, to an area then contested between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Illness prevented her from doing so. This book then, is an account of her curtailed trip. She was evacuated by airplane from the interior, lucky to be alive. I always like travellers who respect the people they visit and who do not condescend. Freya Stark is certainly among them. For a travel book that describes a time long gone and a place still far from the beaten track-do you know many people who have been to Shibam, Makalla, Tarim, or al Qatn ?---you cannot do much better. You might use it as a guide as to how you could get along with people of a very different culture to your own---step number one, don't try to force them to adhere to your value system.

However, one thing about this book puzzled me. Compared to most travel literature, it is a most existentialist piece. "Here I am, travelling through remote Hadhramaut.
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