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A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush Paperback – July 1, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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For more than a decade following the end of World War II, Eric Newby toiled away in the British fashion industry, peddling some of the ugliest clothes on the planet. (Regarding one wafer-thin model in her runway best, he was reminded of "those flagpoles they put up in the Mall when the Queen comes home.") Fortunately, Newby reached the end his haute-couture tether in 1956. At that point, with the sort of sublime impulsiveness that's forbidden to fictional characters but endemic to real ones, he decided to visit a remote corner of Afghanistan, where no Englishman had planted his brogans for at least 50 years. What's more, he recorded his adventure in a classic narrative, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. The title, of course, is a fine example of Newby's habitual self-effacement, since his journey--which included a near-ascent of the 19,800-foot Mir Samir--was anything but short. And his book seems to furnish a missing link between the great Britannic wanderers of the Victorian era and such contemporary jungle nuts as Redmond O'Hanlon.

At times it also brings to mind Evelyn Waugh, who contributed the preface. Newby is a less acidulous writer, to be sure, and he has little interest in launching the sort of heat-seeking satiric missiles that were Waugh's specialty. Still, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush is a hilarious read. The author excels at the dispiriting snapshot, capturing, say, the Afghan backwater of Fariman in two crisp sentences: "A whole gale of wind was blowing, tearing up the surface of the main street. Except for two policemen holding hands and a dog whose hind legs were paralysed it was deserted." His capsule history of Nuristan also gets in some sly digs at Britain's special relationship with the violence-prone Abdur Rahman:

Officially his subsidy had just been increased from 12,000 to 16,000 lakhs of rupees. To the British he had fully justified their selection of him as Amir of Afghanistan and, apart from the few foibles remarked by Lord Curzon, like flaying people alive who displeased him, blowing them from the mouths of cannon, or standing them up to the neck in pools of water on the summits of high mountains and letting them freeze solid, he had done nothing to which exception could be taken.
Newby also surpasses Waugh--and indeed, most other travel writers--in another important respect: he's miraculously free of solipsism. Even the keenest literary voyagers tend to be, in the purest sense of the term, self-centered. But A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush includes wonderfully oblique portraits of the author's travel companion, Hugh Carless, and his wife, Wanda (who plays a starring role in such subsequent chronicles as Slowly down the Ganges). There are also dozens of brilliant cameo parts, and an indelible record of a stunning landscape. The roof of the world is, in Newby's rendering, both an absolute heaven and a low-oxygen hell. Yet the author never pretends to pit himself against a malicious Nature--his mountains are, in Frost's memorable phrase, too lofty and original to rage. Which is yet another reason to call this little masterpiece a peak performance. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Readers will admire his (Newby) perseverence, intriguing personality, and outstanding descriptions.' --Library Journal, March 2002
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Lonely Planet; 2 edition (July 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1741795281
  • ISBN-13: 978-1741795288
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #778,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
They don't come sweeter than this. Facing middle age, Eric Newby abandons his chosen career as a fashion wholesaler to embark on a whimsical journey to remotest Afghanistan to attempt a mighty peak that has never been climbed. His companion, an old friend, knows as much about high-altitude (or ANY) climbing as he does: not a skerrick. They are almost parodies of a vanished England - absurdly brave, amateurish and uncomplaining; Newby's account of their scratchings up airy ice-walls will have the sweat springing from your palms. Along the way we get a rich insight into the rare mountain societies of one of the most mysterious nations on earth, but it is Newby's character itself that makes this book such a joy. Self-mocking, his courage entirely inferred, Newby's modesty holds until the final hilarious, appalling line. We may not want to go climbing with him, but we'd welcome his company on any journey. In fact, Newby's courage was always a key to his personality. His teenage years were spent as a high-rigging sailor on grain ships in the Southern Ocean. In World War Two he was a commando with the Special Boat Squadron. His capture, escape, and life on the run is memorably recounted in another of his classics "Love and War in the Appennines." But for me, "A Short Walk.." remains his most charming, exciting and extraordinary book.
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Format: Paperback
Quintessentially English bit of travel, with the ambitious idea of climbing Mir Samir in Afghanistan, but ostensibly to visit Nuristan next door. The English bit comes into play when you discover that Newby isn't a mountain climber, nor is his traveling friend. They "practice" for four days in Wales before embarking.
This is the type of travel literature I favor. A trip, yes, with its attendant hazards and foibles, but also a story about the travelers, why they travel and the people they meet. So far, I can sense a "difference" in travel writing, easily two categories now, but possibly many others. This book would join with Seth & O'Hanlon as a "Hardship Trip"--a journey filled in pain and danger. Salzman and Mayle are "Sedentary Travelers." They both got to the place, then stuck around and observed the things that happened around them. This book also has one of the best last lines I've read in quite a while. I can't quote it, because not only would it ruin the line for you in case you choose to read this book yourself, but also because it is necessary to sit through the 180 or so pages that go before to fully appreciate the irony of it.
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By A Customer on January 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
In A Short Walk, Eric Newby and companions manage to do everything wrong in order to climb a remote mountain in the Hindu Kush, which happens to be located in Afghanistan. But that's only the best part. The trip starts with a climbing trip to Ben Nevis where the would be climbers are given a pamphlet on how to climb in ice and snow, which is their only introduction to high climbing. They drive a car from Britain to Afghanistan and manage to do everything wrong in a very earnest and english way. Their death defying attempt to climb the mountain has the best of intentions, the worst training and some rather dodgy gear. A brilliant travel story and a excellent guide on how not to climb mountains!!!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the late 1950s Eric Newby, who had been living an overly civilized and unfulfilling life in London's women's fashion industry, was lured by a friend into hiking the Hindu Kush, some of the most rugged terrain on the planet. The trip regularly involved scaling mountains that measure in thousands of meters, and was fraught with surprise, high adventure, peril, and no amount of suffering from inexplicable climate changes and shoes that never quite worked as advertised. Despite this reader's expectations of a grim tale of machismo and derring-do, Newby's narrative, though consummately British, turns out to be understated, dry, self-effacing, and very, very funny without really trying to be. Newby's crew typically hiked into one mountain trading pass or river village after another, encountering denizens who varied widely and violently in language, religion and economic practices though only a few miles apart as the crow flies. This reminded me that Afghanistan, though all one color on the map, is a nation not easily conquered--not really a nation at all, as one invading empire after another has learned to its chagrin. A SHORT WALK IN THE HINDU KUSH is a wonderful travel book, very enjoyable to read, with a significance even Newby may not have intended.
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... or in the Hindu Kush of today.

The subject line is a classic one that flashes across the TV screen when professional stunt-persons are engaged in a particularly dangerous activity, and the show's producers want to protect themselves from lawsuits from an outrageously ill-prepared amateur sitting at home who goes out and attempts the same dangerous activity. This is a delightful story of two outrageously ill-prepared amateurs, Eric Newby and Hugh Carless, impulsively pursuing a whim, and not only living to tell the tale, but providing this very well-written account of same.

The year was 1956. Both men were in their mid-30's. Both had survived the Second World War (Newby as a prisoner for three years). Newby was working in the family business, in the "rag-trade," that is, high fashion clothing for women. Newby needs OUT, and cables his friend, asking if he'd be interested in going to one of the more remote spots on earth, Nuristan, in northeastern Afghanistan, and climb a mountain. He receives a positive response, and the adventure of a lifetime - well, not really, seems like Newby in particular had several others - commenced.

Though neither were the wimps that Wilfred Thesiger, who used a more politically incorrect word, would accuse them of being when they had a chance meeting in Afghanistan, still, neither had ever done any technical climbing (that is, with ropes, karabiners, et al.). (This is the same Thesiger who twice crossed the Rub Al Khali of the Arabian peninsula, and would live with the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq for a couple of years). Carless and Newby set off for Wales to learn the skills of mountaineering... "belaying" and all... in a couple of days! That would be their total training.
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