A river runs through it

You might think that I am biased, but I would recommend reading Empires of the Indus first, many, many people have said to me that is has been the best travel book they have ever read.

Peshawar, city of men, city of flowers, land beyond the mountains. The river running through it is the Indus, made famous by Herodotus, reported on by Scylax, lusted after by Alexander. scan0012Kamila Shamsie has a threnody of classical history and modern (quite modern) history running through her new novel A God in every Stone. We follow in the footsteps of an romantic Edwardian woman, Viv Spencer. Fascinated by men and archeology, or vice versa. First she is in Turkey with the enigmatic but learned Tahsin Bey at the dig at Labraunda. Tahsin is from the ancient land of Caria, the home of Herodotus the Historian, and they are both digging for the past.

The First World War intervenes, Viv and Tahsin are separated by continents and by opposing sides, she becomes a VAD nurse. But after a breakdown, she turns her attention to India on a quest for a treasure which once belonged to Scylax, King Darius’ adventurous messenger who sailed down the Indus and sent home reports of fabulous, mythical creatures: ants that dug up gold, crocodiles and all sorts, all subsequently to appear in the histories of Herodotus and to inflame the imagination of another great adventurer: Alexander of Macedon.

In Peshawar, Viv Rose Spencer is looking for an archeological dig at the temple complex at Shahji-ki-Dheri. Her first encounter on the way to Peshawar is with a Pathan officer recently returned, wounded from the battlefields of France, they step off the train together, and the one-eyed warrior strides away. Viv is greeted by a small boy, Najeeb Gul. He takes her out to the fields surrounding Shahji-ki-Dheri.

Apart from the prehistory bits, this novel falls into before, during and after the war which makes it sound quite logical, but the ancient classical history keeps running up through ground into the present, like reverse lightning. The Frontier lands were in a turbulent state after the war, the British were losing control of parts and in 1930 there was considerable unrest, not handled well…and our characters are in the thick of it.

I strongly recommend another book about the Indus, the whole river travelled by the intrepid, and sometimes foolhardy young writer, scan0013Alice Albinia who while living in Delhi wondered all the time about the river from which the continent of India got its name, The Indus, now running mainly through Pakistan. In Empires of the Indus, Alice travels up river from sea to source(s) mostly on her own, aided by a number of delightful and sometimes wayward characters, taking in the scenery, the history and the tragedy of this once great and mighty flux. A river that Scylax and Alexander and King Darius’ Queen saw and sailed on all the way to the sea…

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One response to “A river runs through it

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