News from Tartary: A Journey from Peking to Kashmir


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For most travellers, and all merchants, the road from China to India lies as it has lain for centuries, through Singkiang along that ancient Silk Road which is the most romantic and culturally the most important trade route in the history of the world. In 1935 Peter Fleming set out to travel that route, from Peking to Kashmir. It was a journey which swept him and his companion 3500 miles across the roof of the world. It took them seven months to complete the journey. They travelled across deserts and mountains, through ice ...

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Nov 8, 2007

Wonderfully amusing

Peter Fleming (brother to the creator of James Bond) was an hardworking, thoughtful writer who liked to pretend that he was indolent rake who somehow managed to toss off his books in between whiskeys. Fleming, then a correspondent for the London Times, invariably minimizes his own knowledge, celebrates his motives as trivial, and mocks any attempt to inflate his own bravery. His classic account, One's Company, of a journey into remote, war-torn Manchuria begins with the bogus claim, "This book is a superficial account of an unsensational journey." Instead it is one of a set of travel books that are among the best ever written. News from Tartary details a trip from Beijing to India through the Taklamakan desert in the middle of the Chinese civil war--an attempt to find out what was happening in a portion of the world that no European had been to in almost a decade. Via truck, horseback, mule, and on foot Fleming and his companion, an intrepid Swiss writer named Ella Maillart, traveled 3500 miles of very rough country. The book is funny without being whimsical, acerbic without being unkind, and, most of all, wonderfully evocative of a fascinating and now-vanished time and place. I would have given it five stars, but if I did that what could I say about something like War and Peace? I think Fleming would have approved this decision.

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