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With the publication of The Valley of the Assassins in 1934, a legend was launched. Freya Stark had begun the extraordinary adventures that would glamorize her, though distinctly unglamorous, as the last of the great travelers. Hailed as a classic, the book chronicled her travels in remote and dangerous regions of the Middle East, inspiring Lawrence of Arabia to call the audacious, ambitious Freya "a gallant creature."
        
Her reputation had begun in 1927, when she was captured by French military police after penetrating their cordon around the rebellious Druze. She explored the mountainous territory of the mysterious Assassins of Persia, became the first woman to explore Luristan in western Iran, and followed the ancient frankincense routes to locate a lost city.
        
At first a thorn in the side of the British colonial establishment for consorting with "wogs," Freya was later extravagantly admired by officialdom. Her knowledge of Middle Eastern languages and life aided the military and diplomatic corps, for whom she conceived an effective propaganda network during World War II.
          
Throughout her long life--she died in 1993, over a hundred years old, having been knighted at age eighty-two by the Queen--she rejoiced in the attentions of the press and of her audiences. In private she remarked that she put herself in harm's way in order not to fear death.
          
Her indomitable spirit was forged by contradictions. A child of privilege, she grew up in near poverty after her mother rashly allied herself with an Italian count in a rug manufacturing venture. She yearned for a formal education but was largely self-taught, mastering seven languages. She longed for love but consistently focused on the wrong men. She was thirty-four before she extricated herself from her family and embarked on the travels that would make her reputation. Her astonishing career lasted over sixty years, during which she produced twenty-two books unmatched for perception and poetic prose.
          
This is a brilliant, balanced biography, rich in sheikhs, diplomats, nomad warriors and chieftains, generals, would-be lovers, and luminaries, with author Jane Fletcher Geniesse digging beneath the mythology to uncover a complex, quixotic, and controversial woman.


From the Hardcover edition.
Published: Random House Publishing Group an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on Jul 21, 2010
ISBN: 9780307756855
List price: $12.99
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This biography deals with Freya Stark, who became an expert Arabist before and during World War II. She was an intrepid traveller, often travelling in remote areas by donkey and relying on the kindness of locals to lodge her. She was a member of the Royal Geographical Society and contributed to accurate mapping of the middle east. She worked for the British Foreign Office during the War to build support for the Allies. And, she was an accomplished writer. Examples in the book of Freya's own writing prompted me to order a book written by her. She speaks eloquently of perseverance: "...it is not so oftern realized that another quality must accompany it to make it of any value -- and that is elasticity; perseverance in only one direction very often fails..." And of indifference: "it is a remarkable thing, when one comes to consider it, that indifference should be so generally considered a sign of superiority the world over..."The biography itself is a balanced look at Freya's life. The first two chapters are not written in chronological order, which can be confusing, but the book flows better after that. The author places too much importance on Freya's appearance. While Freya herself lamented her lack of beauty, the author picks up this theme with a little too much zeal for someone writing in 1999 of a woman who accomplished so much. Given the current conflicts in the Middle East and between western society and Islam, this book is a timely read. The history of Arabic societies, including broken promises by imperial countries, deepened my understanding of issues we are hearing about on the daily news.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Freya Stark was an amazing woman. Not because she explored uncharted territories. Not because she dared to go where even the bravest of men hadn't. Not because she had no regard for her own well being. Not even because she was an expert Arabist. She was an amazing woman because she dared, period. We hear about the glass ceiling and what women even today are tolerating. Freya faced all that and more.Geniesse weaves a convincing autobiography of Freya Stark using letters to and from Freya, journals, interviews, but mostly from Freya's own library of books written about her experiences. Freya was a prolific writer and so Geniesse had plenty of material to draw from. The final product is a fascinating account of one woman's rise to recognition through exploration and encourage, especially during one of the most volatile times of our history - World War II.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I don't usually read biographies, but my dad gifted this to my mom - she thought it looked boring. Perfect book stealing opportunity!read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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This biography deals with Freya Stark, who became an expert Arabist before and during World War II. She was an intrepid traveller, often travelling in remote areas by donkey and relying on the kindness of locals to lodge her. She was a member of the Royal Geographical Society and contributed to accurate mapping of the middle east. She worked for the British Foreign Office during the War to build support for the Allies. And, she was an accomplished writer. Examples in the book of Freya's own writing prompted me to order a book written by her. She speaks eloquently of perseverance: "...it is not so oftern realized that another quality must accompany it to make it of any value -- and that is elasticity; perseverance in only one direction very often fails..." And of indifference: "it is a remarkable thing, when one comes to consider it, that indifference should be so generally considered a sign of superiority the world over..."The biography itself is a balanced look at Freya's life. The first two chapters are not written in chronological order, which can be confusing, but the book flows better after that. The author places too much importance on Freya's appearance. While Freya herself lamented her lack of beauty, the author picks up this theme with a little too much zeal for someone writing in 1999 of a woman who accomplished so much. Given the current conflicts in the Middle East and between western society and Islam, this book is a timely read. The history of Arabic societies, including broken promises by imperial countries, deepened my understanding of issues we are hearing about on the daily news.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Freya Stark was an amazing woman. Not because she explored uncharted territories. Not because she dared to go where even the bravest of men hadn't. Not because she had no regard for her own well being. Not even because she was an expert Arabist. She was an amazing woman because she dared, period. We hear about the glass ceiling and what women even today are tolerating. Freya faced all that and more.Geniesse weaves a convincing autobiography of Freya Stark using letters to and from Freya, journals, interviews, but mostly from Freya's own library of books written about her experiences. Freya was a prolific writer and so Geniesse had plenty of material to draw from. The final product is a fascinating account of one woman's rise to recognition through exploration and encourage, especially during one of the most volatile times of our history - World War II.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I don't usually read biographies, but my dad gifted this to my mom - she thought it looked boring. Perfect book stealing opportunity!
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is a biography of one of the Twentieth Century's most inveterate female travelers and experts on the Middle East.Freya Stark was a mesmerising personality, and Geniesse's comprehensive biography captures that quality.It was interesting to note that while Stark had the perspicacity to see some of the problems created by British colonialism, she, herself, was ardent British loyalist with a sometimes imperialistic attitude. She also seemed completely obtuse when it came to her private, romantic life.I was completely drawn in by the subject, in large part due to how well it was handled by the author.
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