The Road to Oxiana

Robert Byron

Read December 2002

A gem that I was happy to find, used, in Charleston, SC. A log of a 1930's journey by a Brit into the region where the Middle East turns into Asia. There's not a little prejudice mixed in here, but its well worth enduring to read his trenchant analyses and delightful turns of phrase. In the process of documenting architecture, his real passion, he observes and excoriates his and other European governments, noticing the gathering storm clouds and foreseeing the problems that have since beset Oxiana. Byron's aesthetic judgments fall well outside the mainstream, but they're all the more delightful for that. Read why the Taj Mahal, Persepolis and the Buddhas of Bamiyan leave him underwhelmed, why Isfahan once thought of itself as nesf-e-jahan (“half the world”), and how he tries to trace the origins of the region's art. An eclectic read, but highly rewarding if you can tolerate the author and format.

(A modern fan, who retraces some of his steps in Afghanistan and shares his passion for Herat, is Christina Lamb.)