Dawn is the time to see it, to look up at the Six Columns, when peach-gold and blue air shine with equal radiance, and even the empty bases that uphold no columns have a living, sunblest identity against the violet deeps of the firmament. Robert Byron took a ten month journey through the Middle East during the years 1933-34. Chatwin always carried a copy with him and reading Chatwin is how I first discovered the existence of Robert Byron. I did develop a literary intimacy with Byron while reading this book and could think of myself as waiting anxiously for his next letter describing the wonders of what he has seen. The book reads like dispatches from a close friend, but that illusion is sometimes broken when there seems to be information missing that is the type of intimate understanding assumed between friends. Byron was close friends with Nancy Mitford and at one point she had hoped he would propose marriage. She was later astonished as well as shocked to discover his homosexual tastes, complaining: "This wretched pederasty falsifies all feelings and yet one is supposed to revere it." Unfortunately for Nancy, Byron was in love with Desmond Parsons, younger brother of the 6th Earl of Rosse, who was regarded as one of the most magnetic men of his generation. Desmond Parsons and Lord Snowden at the London wedding of Princess Margaret As a precaution on the trip Byron must change the name of the Shah in his diary in case it is confiscated. Byron does read on this trip. I know I have many friends who have read Proust in the last year, as have I, so it was a special treat when he makes mention of the influence Proust is having on his writing. Byrons influence on travel writing can not be denied. I have a good friend who writes travel articles for a living and he considers this book to be one of the most influential books that turned him to travelling for a living. I have been remiss for at least a decade in not reading this book sooner, as my friend has frequently reminded me. Byron died in 1941 at age 35 when the ship he was travelling on, the SS Jonathan Holt, was torpedoed by U-97 a Type VIIC submarine in the North Atlantic.
It contains a great many references to Persian and some Afghan antiquities, many of which author Byron photographed on his 1933 excursion. Byron's original B/W photographs are available through the ebook's links as are many more current images, like this one of the Sheikh Lotf-Allah Mosque's interior. Author Byron's intrepidity is also worth noting, too, especially when he travels to Firuzabad in southern Iran, accompanied by a squad of the Shah's policemenostensibly in attendance to fend off banditsjust so he can photograph and closely describe the local antiquities.
QUANDO VIAGGIARE ERA UN PIACERE Ho intrecciato e intervallato la lettura di questo bel libro con 'Talibani' di Ahmed Rashid, mi è sembrata una giusta abbinata. Meno estetizzante di Chatwin, che si portò dietro questo libro consumandolo nel corso di ripetute letture, Byron è ben provvisto del tipico humour britannico che arricchisce di brio queste pagine (come immagino riusciva a fare una spruzzata di seltz tenuto al fresco in mezzo alla neve col suo whiskey nascosto in fiaschette che venivano spacciate per succo di frutta!). Evidentemente, non incontrò Talebani sul suo cammino.
I did immoderately love flamboyant young Anthony up to no good in the louche bars of Oxford but when he morphs into Robert Byron and swans around sneering at Johnny Foreigner then it does get a bit too too : I went to swim at the YMCA opposite the hotel. For only one thing is it now justly famous : a kind of boil which takes nine months to heal, and leaves a scar. Paul Fussell, a heavyweight if ever there was one, wrote in 1982 that The Road to Oxiana is to the travel book what "Ulysses is to the novel between the wars, and what The Waste Land is to poetry." And Bruce Chatwin wanted to get his copy surgically implanted into a cavity in his sacroiliac so he would never be parted. It kind of depends on whether you throb with love-gushes as you read such passages as While the cadent sun throws lurid copper streaks across the sand-blown sky, all the birds in Persia have gathered for a last chorus. or I have never encountered splendour of this kind before. It wasnt too hard, since I found that this book consists of sneery remarks describing how Robert gets from A to B, and what frightful but sort of delicious indignities he has to put up with; plus a lot of pure-gold comedy vignettes where he recounts conversations with amusing foreign dignitaries or station porters. It's all not a little self-congratulatory, which may be my problem with the whole genre of travel writing. RB is on a bus to Meshed and a brouhaha erupts when the driver tries to collect fares.
2.5 stars This book and its writer are a bit of an enigma and I found myself liking and disliking Robert Byron in equal measure. The Road to Oxiana tells of a journey Byron made with Christopher Sykes to explore the architecture of what is now Iran and Afghanistan. If you want well written descriptions of Islamic architecture then Byron is your man; illustrated below; I have never encountered splendour of this kind before. Byrons ideas come from Spengler and Clive Bell and if you want to read a travel book from the 1930s then read Patrick Leigh Fermor. However Byron does write about Islamic architecture very well, at a time when it was not fashionable to do so
In The Road To Oxiana the journey goes through Persia and Afghanistan. I have been revisiting places in Iran that I have seen, smiling at little things that apparently did not change in 80 years and mourning all the places I never had the chance to see. If I had met Robert Byron at an earlier stage in my travel life I would have been able to seek out the influence of Queen Goharshad Begum who was a great patroness of architecture and art in the area during the fist half of the 15th century.
Robert Byron is a writer who has at least one extremely funny wisecrack per page except when he is describing yet another dome, minaret or entrance gate with such intensity and long breath that you get bored after the detailed description of the fiftieth monument.
The book is written as a journal, describing a trip he made in 1933 through the Middle East via Beirut, Jerusalem, Baghdad and Teheran to Oxiana, on a quest to see the legendary eleventh century tower of Qabus, (or Kabus). The tower, depicted in my copy in a photo as a menacing but plain cone-topped construct of pillared bricks, is brought to life by Byron's extraordinary knowledge and powers of description, as is everything else that crosses his path, from local people, to breathtaking landscapes, as well as the countless other ancient and often abandoned monuments that he seeks out. For Robert Byron is a traveller in the truest, greatest sense: that is, he does not, ever, attempt to impose himself on the terrain and cultures he is exploring; he simply observes every detail with awe and gratitude and intelligence, managing in this great book to allow the reader to share that privilege with him. Sadder still, Robert Byron died just 8 years later, in 1941, thanks to a torpedo sinking the ship on which he was travelling as a journalist in the Second World War. He was thirty six.
It only took me a few days to read this book about Robert Byron's 1934 journey through Persia and Afghanistan, but those few days were spread across six years. Rory Stewart, in his Preface (which like all prefaces and introductions is best enjoyed after reading the book) observes that Byron more or less invented travel writing.
In 1933 Robert Byron made the trek into Central Asia by way of the Middle East; specifically, the Soviet Union by way of Afghanistan.
Robert Byron (1905 - 24 February 1941) was a British travel writer, best known for his travelogue The Road to Oxiana. Byron's The Road to Oxiana is considered by many modern travel writers to be the first example of great travel writing. It is an account of Byron's ten-month journey to Persia and Afghanistan in 1933-34 in the company of Christopher Sykes.