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The Southern Gates of Arabia
A Journey in the Hadhramaut
Edged by the fearsome Empty Quarter to the North, the Arabian Sea to the South and resting on layers of history that stretch back to the dawn of human civilisation, the Hadhramaut - heart of 'Arabia Felix', in what is now Yemen - is one of the wildest and most remote parts of Arabia, little-changed from when Freya Stark travelled there over 70 years ago. Tracing the ancient incense route, Stark set out to be the first westerner to discover the fabled lost city of Shabwa, which had captivated explorers and travellers for centuries. Though she journeyed through the canyons and mountains of the Hadhramaut extensively and by any means possible, Stark's goal was never reached, but the ending to her story was nevertheless - and in characteristic fashion - dramatic. Having caught measles whilst staying in a sultan's harem and with the region overrun by warring religious factions and bandits, she had to be evacuated by the Royal Air Force. Though Shabwa remained elusive, Freya Stark's remarkable journey ensured that her name would forever be associated with Arabia and her travels hailed as intrepid and adventurous as any undertaken by other great explorers of Arabia such as T.E.
Lawrence, Richard Burton and Charles Doughty.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
'It's hard to think of a writer in the travel game who most closely demonstrates the merits of Flaubert's three rules for good writing: clarity, clarity and finally clarity. Re-reading her now, her restrained powers of description shine as brightly as they ever did, and they will continue to shine until the next Ice Age... Her books are more relevant than ever. Besides sheer enjoyment, one should read her for a fresh perspective on the intractable issues dogging Christian-Muslim relations. She was able to see both sides and what she found was similarity, not difference. The greatest woman traveller of the 20th century? I think so.' - Sara Wheeler, The Times; 'This book recaptures all the romance, beauty and primitive atmosphere of that still unspoilt Arabia of spices ... and the high-walled cities and little-known desert stretches.' - Irish Times; 'Extraordinarily rich and authoritative ... a book to treasure' - New York Times; 'There aren't many writers who rise so clearly above the teeming marketplace of travellers as Freya Stark' - The Spectator; 'Freya Stark unites in one mind the traveller, the historian, the philosopher and the poet' - TLS; 'The Hadhramaut is still unfamiliar ... No outsider has caught its spirit as gently and wonderingly as did Freya' - Tim Mackintosh-Smith; 'It was rare to leave her company without feeling that the world was somehow larger and more promising. Her life was something of a work of art - The books in which she recorded her journeys were seductively individual - Nomad and social lioness, public servant and private essayist, emotional victim and mythmaker.' - Colin Thubron, NY Times; 'Few writers have the capacity to do with words what Faberge could do with gems--to fashion them, without violating their quality. It is this extraordinary talent which sets Freya Stark apart from her fellow craftsman in the construction of books on travel.' - The Daily Telegraph; 'Freya Stark remains unexcelled as an interpreter of brief encounters in wild regions against the backdrop of history.' - The Observer; 'It is... as the writer of beautiful, measured prose rather than as a traveller or as an exotic 'character' who wore Dior in the wilder reaches of Asia and Arabian dress in London, that Freya Stark will ultimately be remembered.' - The Independent; 'One of the finest travel writers of our century.' - The New Yorker; '[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; 'A Middle East traveler, an explorer and, above all, a writer, Freya Stark has, with an incomparably clear eye, looked toward the horizon of the past without ever losing sight of the present. Her books are route plans of a perceptive intelligence, traversing time and space with ease.' - Saudi Aramco World