Gertrude Bell

“The world was awake — it wakes early in the East.”

Gertrude Bell’s simple description of a Persian sunrise encapsulates, with figurative overtones, the theme of the books I have been reading lately. In The Silk Roads, she is described as dynamic and fiercely intelligent, brilliant, a mercurial scholar and traveler who knew the region and its people as well as anyone. Portrayed by Nicole Kidman in Queen of the Desert, she is called a Kingmaker for being influential in drawing up the borders of the new nation of Iraq and in bringing King Faisal to power as its first ruler in 1921. But it was only through Safar Nameh that I was introduced to her writing.

She writes so elegantly with a deep perception of places, people, and the relationship between East and West. She speaks of “the careless optimism of those who seek to pile one edifice upon another, a Western upon an Eastern world, and never pause to consider whether, if it stands at all, the newer will only stand by crushing the older out of all existence.”

This is a tiny book of a hundred pages that I thought I would be able to finish in one coffee break, but the writing is too beautiful that I had to savor the lines over and over again.

And for those times when my mind and soul are exceedingly wide awake in wonder, she has the right words… “The world was too lovely for sleep.”

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