Tuesday, October 06, 2015

A Short Walk Through the Hindukush

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush is a 1958 book by the English travel writer Eric Newby. It is an autobiographical account of his adventures in the Hindu Kush, around the Nuristan mountains of Afghanistan, ostensibly to make the first mountaineering ascent of Mir Samir. It has been described as a comic masterpiece, intensely English, and understated. Publications including The Guardian and The Telegraph list it among the greatest travel books of all time. It has sold over 500,000 copies in paperback.

The book has 14 monochrome photographs taken mainly by Newby, and two hand-drawn maps. The novelist Evelyn Waugh wrote a preface that mentions the book's whimsy and its Englishness.

The action in the book moves from Newby's life in the fashion business in London to Afghanistan. On the way Newby describes his very brief training in mountaineering in North Wales, a stop in Istanbul, and a nearly-disastrous drive across Turkey and Persia. They are driven out to the Panjshir Valley, where they begin their walk, with many small hardships described in a humorous narrative, supported by genuine history of Nuristan and brief descriptions of the rare moments of beauty along the way. Disagreements with Newby's Persian-speaking companion Hugh Carless, and odd phrases in an antique grammar book, are exploited to comic effect.

The book has been reprinted many times, in at least 16 English versions and in Spanish, Chinese and German editions. While some critics consider Newby's Love and War in the Apennines a better book, A Short Walk was the book that made him well-known, and critics agree that it is both understated and very funny in an old-school British way.

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