Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Book review: Turkestan Solo by Ella Maillart

As the book jacket says, long before travel to Central Asia was fashionable Ella Maillart did it. Throughout the 1930's, she journeyed across China, from Peking to Srinagar with fellow journalist Peter Fleming; from Geneva to Kabul and reported for international newspapers from Turkey, Iran and Afganistan. During the 1930's. As a woman. We're impressed when women do this today, 80 years later. To top of her extraordinary story during the 20' she was an international skier, on the Swiss hockey team and competed in the 1924 Olympics.

As a book, it's interesting. At the beginning, it reads a little strangely. I think that's more because the voice and style are so different from what travel journals sound like nowadays. Moving on from that, you have to be impressed by what she did. She skied to the top of a mountain 5 people had climbed. Ever. She travels to places that most of us will never see, even now. She meets amazing people and chronicles what ordinary life is like on the steppes of Kazakstan in yurts eating precious potatoes.

She talks a bit about adventure, seeing places before they become something else – a country in line with those around it, a 'modern' place. The advance of Communism is coming to Central Asia and with it huge changes. She saw these amazing places when they were still places one journeyed to. As far as I'm concerned, going to Kazakstan and Bokhara and Samarkand is still an adventure, let alone by myself 80 years ago. I want to go to the last 2 cities, by the way.

Her many books and photographs are considered important historical records of a time and place and come from her unique view point as one of the first 'tourists' in the countries she visits.

If you see any of Ella Maillart's books you should pick them up and read them. She writes intimately about places we can still visit and maybe see a little of life 100 years ago even if there are traffic lights and tall buildings and progress.


  1. I'm reading Forbidden Journey by Ella Maillart right now and it is excellent.

    1. Another one I need to add to my list! I am finding it difficult to locate Ella Maillart's books in bookshops and libraries unforunately.


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