19 January, 2012

Book of Note: Passionate Nomad

She lived a very long, adventurous life. Born in Paris, of English-Italian descent, by the time Freya Stark died in May 1993 at age 100 - she was a Dame of the British Empire and world famous. Famous for cartography, but most of all - she was well known and celebrated worldwide, particularly due to her travels and experiences in the Middle East; mainly due to her adventurous journeys through Hadhramaut.

It is said that due to her reading the book: One Thousand and One Nights, she became fascinated with the Middle East. In 1927 she began her very adventurous and very remarkable travels through Arabia. Alone, except with a few local guides. Not only did she do the seemingly impossible feat of a European woman traveling through some of the remotest corners of the Earth in the desert, alone, often with only one guide - but she went on to write over 20 popular books in her life time.

Imagine a woman, alone, with one or two guides, on a donkey - traveling through the valleys and deserts of Hadhramout. Imagine that happening before the second World War. Imagine that woman being a European. Incredible! What kind of courage, bravery, (madness?) drive a woamn to do that; and what kind of a woman would dare do that? Even today- what woman would dare travel through Hadhramawt or Arabia, alone? As if her stupendous journeys were not enough, she was writing and making maps during these travels. And to cap it all: she lived up to over one-hundred!

Many thought and still many say, Freya Stark was a spy. Was she? Most probably she was. Still, even if she was a spy, it would take a most extraordinary person to do and go through what this woman did. Read Jane Fletcher Geniesse's well researched, very absorbing and brilliant biography: Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark. If the book was fiction, it would still be very interesting and worth reading. But, the book is about one of the most extraordinary, most brave, most adventurous and most daring woman who has ever lived. And, as fictional as it may seem - Freya Stark was indeed real.