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Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark (Anglais) Broché – 24 juillet 2001

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The Beginning

What I am, and why learning Arabic, is a mystery. If I say I do it for pleasure, there is a look of such incredulity that I begin to feel as self-conscious about it as if I were telling the most blatant lie," wrote Freya Stark to her mother as she shivered through the winter of 1927-28 in French-controlled Lebanon.

Freya had arrived in the middle of December with a copy of Dante's Inferno, very little money, a revolver, and a fur coat. This last was to prove the most useful, for the weather was freezing. Immaculately polite and maintaining her good humor despite being wrapped from head to toe in woolens, she was just beginning to feel the throaty Arabic syllables slide more easily from her lips. She was thirty-four years old, stood scarcely five feet, one inch, in stocking feet, and was still extremely thin from a recent illness. Both the missionaries and the Arabs in the little mountain town where she had come to study agreed that she was perfectly charming. Few suspected that this appealing young person, so apparently unassuming, old-fashioned, even--they might have said--quaint, had a will of steel.

In November 1927, Freya had embarked on a cargo ship for Beirut, leaving behind what she had long concluded was an unacceptable life. "It is so wonderful to be away, really away; a new land opening out every morning," she exulted as the SS Abbazia tossed through the rough Mediterranean. It did not matter that a cargo ship was all she could afford. She watched pigs, sugar, even once a Marconi telegraph machine being off-loaded between stops that grew more picturesque and unfamiliar with every passing day.

"We are now among islands in the Ionian Sea. Is not the very name an enchantment? The sea is quiet, the twilight falling. I asked the name of an island on the right. 'Ithaca,' says the Captain, as if the name were mere geography."

She had sat in her deck chair, the cold sirocco whipping the pages of her writing tablet, and felt that, at last, all the years of lonely study on her own, her determined efforts to make up for the schooling she had begged to have, which had been interrupted by the terrible Great War, no longer needed to be regretted so bitterly. It had been wrenching to slip out from under the attachments of family and embark on this journey. But if she had not gone when she did, she feared that she would never have got away, just as her sister Vera never did. Both had been prisoners to responsibilities they abhorred, but unlike Vera, Freya had refused to succumb. Instead, Freya had consoled herself by reading dazzling accounts of European explorers in the lands of the Arabs. One day, she had resolved, the world would hear of her "in the deserts of Arabia discovering buried cities."

In 1920 Freya sensed a path quietly open. In April of that year everyone on the Italian Riviera was riveted by the events taking place at San Remo, only a few miles from Freya's home. The victorious Allies were gathering in that coastal town, and anyone who could tried to get a glimpse of the British prime minister, David Lloyd George, as he hurried back from and forth to meetings with Premier Georges Clemenceau of France. The purpose of the conference was to dispose of the sprawling territories of the defeated enemy, the Ottoman Empire. Because the United States refused to sign on to the League of Nations, the British and French were free to slice up the Middle East to their own imperial satisfaction. The Arab lands governed for over 467 years by the Grand Turk were to be "mandates" until such time as they "could stand on their own." Great Britain would supervise Mesopotamia, Transjordan, Palestine, and Egypt, while France would look after Greater Syria, including Lebanon. As for Persia, long the target of foreign influence, postwar turmoil would spark a coup against the old Qajar regime in 1921 and bring to prominence a Cossack Brigade commander, Reza Khan, who four years later would crown himself shah of a new Pahlavi dynasty.

Freya's heart had soared at the thought of visiting these regions. Like everyone else who had been revolted and depressed by the seemingly hopeless bloody trench warfare in Europe, she had raptly followed the successes of Colonel T. E. Lawrence in spearheading an Arab revolt against the Turks. It had been thrilling to imagine this young intelligence officer racing through the desert on camel-back in the company of hawk-eyed Bedouin warriors. But Lawrence was only the latest hero in the history of brilliant Eastern adventures, and Freya plunged avidly into its literature.

She began to consume all she could find about the early-nineteenth-century travelers. There was Johann Burckhardt, who disguised himself as a holy man and found the great Nabataean city of Petra before dying of plague in Cairo. Ulrich Seetzen located the lost ruins of Roman Jerash, mapped the Dead Sea, and was murdered by the imam of Yemen for being a spy for the czar. She read what she could get of the works of the great Orientalist Sir Richard Burton, famed for his search for the Nile and secret ventures into Mecca and Medina. Recently Freya had finished the vast and ponderous Travels in Arabia Deserta by Charles Montagu Doughty, who had died just one year before she herself sailed East. The lives of these explorers and the many others were filled with bold and daring deeds, and Freya read them with shining eyes. Since she was a child she had loved Kipling's tales of British imperial grandeur, and the story of Kim and the Red Lama had been her favorite book. That many of these Europeans had doubled as intelligence agents in the "great game" between their rival governments only intrigued her more. To Freya, the East seemed the most exotic place left on earth.

From the Hardcover edition.

Revue de presse

"[Geniesse] has achieved, in the end, an admirable focus, at once critical and sympathetic. The portrait that emerges is a subtle and generous one. For all Stark’s unresolved contradictions, … her distinction as a latter-day woman of letters survives." New York Times Book Review

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Format: Broché
For as long as I could remember, Damascus had conjured all that was beautiful and alluring on the Eastern horizon. A graceful oasis page on the edge of the Syrian Desert, filled with sparkling fountains and delicate minarets, orchards of figs, pomegranates, almonds and apricots surrounded it. Damascus had enjoyed a rich history."

Freda Stark was English but was raised in Italy. Freda Stark a lonely girl who longed to explore the world was not about to just go on reading about it, but she wanted to ensure that her dreams came through and she went to accomplish this.
Coming out of a middle class family, she started early, learning exotic languages with the determination that travel will follow. She was interested in the East with its rich culture and found her way there eventually.
Termed as a mapmaker, archaeologist, travel writer and explorer, she explored the Middle East from Persia, Syria, Yemen and other Arabian countries, making friends with anyone who would talk to her and educate her more. Her love for learning and writing took her through vast experiences, which are all expounded, in this wonderful novel. Entertaining and educating, you will be delighted with this non-fictional novel that I highly recommended.
Reviewed by Heather Marshall Negahdar (SUGAR-CANE 24-02-10)
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Interesting book about a not very well known figure of the English explorers in the middle east. If you're interested in Lawrence of Arabia and Gertrude Bell, go for Freya Stark !
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x93727744) étoiles sur 5 56 commentaires
78 internautes sur 78 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x934d66c0) étoiles sur 5 A gem of a book! 4 novembre 2001
Par Arali - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
As a lover of biographies, I became interested in this book after reading a positive review from Modern Library. What could be more interesting than to read about a woman ahead of her time, fearless, captivating, smart and daring? Dame Freya Stark was all of these things, as well as a little "difficult".

Drowning in the despair of a dead-end future and smarting after a broken engagement, Freya decides to embark on a journey to the Middle East and from that moment establishes the course of an adventurous and remarkable life. Having studied Arabic and arming herself with as much knowledge as possible about the people she is going to visit, Freya sets out to explore the mysteries of an often misunderstood people. Often with little else than a donkey and one guide, Freya would visit the remotest, most dangerous places of countries like Yemen and Iraq in search of lost civilizations and ancient ruins. Braving illnesses and occassional mishaps, her attempts prove fruitful as she is able to test the accuracy of British maps; and in proving herself a talented writer of her experiences, she is honored by the Royal Geographic Society. In time her successes win her the respect of both East and West and she becomes a hailed celebrity in her native Great Britain.

Leading a colorful life while making and breaking friendships, Freya is eventually given work with the British Foreign Service during World War II and manages to establish a successful pro-British propoganda organization in the Middle East. Having proven herself an invaluable asset to her country, Ms. Stark is eventually knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

Author Jane Fletcher Geniesse writes an honest account of this great traveler, neither glorifying or demonizing her. We are allowed to see Dame Freya as she truly is: a remarkable woman with all the quirks that make her human. Reading this book was an absolute pleasure and how wonderful to learn about such a courageous woman who did whatever the hell she pleased! To borrow from reviewer Jim Lehrer, "Passionate Nomad is a work of nonfiction that reads and sings with the drama and life of a fine novel".
49 internautes sur 49 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x934d6714) étoiles sur 5 Tenderly written bio on an astounding human being! 20 mars 2001
Par R. Peterson - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Dame Freya Stark (who died in 1993 at the age of 100) was, simply, an amazing, uppity, wild woman - WELL ahead of her time and full of the demons and insecurities that frequently propel the great among us to show their true colors. Having lived in the Middle East I was absolutely absorbed by this incredibly well-documented and tenderly written portrayal of a woman who eventually became one of the England's most favorite travelers and 'royal geographers' (and, some say, an accurate foreteller of Arab/Israeli conflict)!  Stark struck out late in life (in her 30s) on a journey of solitary trips and exploration throughout Syria, Iran, Yemen, and other corners of the region, as well as living an extremely active British propagandist's life in Egypt during WW II. That she traveled alone in places where ne'er a Western woman had trod before is at first extraordinary, but in addition, she also had the skill, want, and presence of mind to write prolifically about her experiences and adventures, not only in the form of news articles but in detailed, emotional, voluminous letters to friends and family. And thank goodness. Stark's life was, in a sense, quite bi-polar. On the one hand she yearned to marry and have children and yet had she done that she would likely never have charted maps, discovered mythical ruins, and run rogue through various British attempts at diplomacy in the Middle East. Her parents split when she was young and her mother was a force to be reckoned with (and is probably responsible for destroying Freya's one attempt at a true marriage as well as destroying Freya's younger sister). Freya, in her search for marriage was drawn to gay men in the Royal British Foreign Service (whom she steadfastly refused to believe were gay). Outside of her (self-proclaimed) failed social achievements, her travel and her writing were extraordinary.
Geniesee has done a spectacular job of keeping us, as readers, balanced in our views and Freya, as our "quarry" balanced as well. She shares with the reader the frustrations of people who did not understand Stark, and we read in a number of places about what a difficult travel companion she could be. The reader is also privy to Stark's somewhat bizarre social behavior in which she shuns close friends suddenly and for very (ostensibly) strange reasons. Geniesse, in other words, has done a good job of keeping her protagonist honest for us... something that biographers can sometimes find difficult to do (the urge to glorify or demonize may overtake). This is a monument to women everywhere who find great joy (I do, obviously) in reading about the women who blaze the trails, who reach beyond society's expectations for them, who go and do and learn because they want to, damn it. It was such a pleasure reading about this grand dame.
38 internautes sur 38 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x934d6b4c) étoiles sur 5 An excellent biography of an English explorer. 24 octobre 1999
Par George B. Adams - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Spending time with interesting women who are inaccessible to us in real life is one of the pleasures of a good book and Jane Fletcher Geniesse has just added to the list. The author gives us a detailed account of the life of a fearless wanderer, Freya Stark, whose 100 years on earth (1893-1993)were packed with adventures to rival the tales of the Arabian Nights. Freya, though hardly living up to the attributes of her Norse namesake (no goddess of love and beauty, she!), nevertheless conquered the Arab world by making full use of her strengths: drive, intelligence, and an extraordinary empathy for the peoples of the Middle East. Geniesse does not dismiss her shortcomings but offers good reasons for the bizarre behavior of her heroine. She also handles the historical background with grace and understanding. It was an extraordinary time, made even more so by an indomitable English woman, and the author is to be congratulated for presenting her with such skill.
30 internautes sur 32 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x934d6f18) étoiles sur 5 A well-written, well-researched page-turner. 25 octobre 1999
Par M.Y. Ullman - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This is a fair, rounded, and delightfully written biography ofa complex woman who was a brave, solitary British explorer in the Middle East and something of a social misfit in England. In addition to her acclaimed explorations, Stark put her experience to good use during World War II in the service of her country as a propagandist. Mrs. Geniesse bases much of her account on Stark's voluminous correspondence and on many interviews with people who knew her. In ably presenting the many facets of Stark's personality and achievements, she has also produced an extremely readable book.
18 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x934dc018) étoiles sur 5 Captivating, intelligent and a darned good read. 21 octobre 1999
Par Adrienne Miller - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Amily Dickinson's line "I dwell in possibility" echoed for me as I read this beautifully-crafted biography. Freya Stark saw possibilities where others apprehended obstacles; her ability to seize opportunities for adventure and to record her unusual experiences with intelligence and wit not only saved her from the conventional life of a spinster, but provided her contemporaries with fascinating information about about a part of the world they understood poorly. Her readers and listeners were mesmerized by what she had to tell them. Jane Geniesse's great achievement is that like Stark, she is able to convey a great breadth of learning and observation in a way that is entirely entertaining. This book has taught me a great deal more about Freya Stark, the Middle East and modern European history, but I seem to have no bruises to show for it! Thank you, Ms Geniesse!
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