A review of “A Winter in Arabia”, by Freya Stark
Delicately, beautifully written. Rather like Wilfred Thesiger, she draws attention to an Arabia that no longer exists, an Arabia she may have, however inadvertently, contributed to the end of. She writes of hidden pools hardly visited by anyone but Bedu shepherds, of strange castles on the dusty, arid, windswept plateau of what is now Yemen. Of villages where few if any of the villagers have seen a European. Of casual vendetta and war continued through generations, brought to a fragile and not entirely permanant stop by the “English peace”. She writes of men with great vices and great virtues, of small men capable of much when tried; of big men who do mean and small deeds.
She is eminently quotable and copyable for inspiration in one’s own thoughts. She writes, inter alia, “the fear of disturbing the peace tended to limit our plans more than the wars of the old days, when a casualty more or less could make no odds”
The point here being, war tends to collectivize us and dehumanize us, strip away our importance as individuals. In war, the individual, at least ostensibly, matters less and less. “One casualty more or less”, one more or one less dead person. But people do matter; individuals do matter. One person dying matters. “Jesus wept” – John 11:36.
Freya has a subtelty, a delicacy of tone, reminding me of the sky at dusk, that pastel shade that is so fragile and short-lived. She writes of Arabs, the sons of Ishmael, “a patient and pleasant people, not roused to petulance by the want of supper or by the fact that they had only a cotton shawl between them and the rigours of the night”.
How challenging for us in the west, to me, right now. In this respect for the bedouin she is also like Wilfred Thesiger, who acknowledged in the bedu true and deep nobility and greatness, to which he could not aspire.