The Cruel Way – Ella K. Maillart

The Cruel Way - Ella K. Maillart
The Cruel Way – Ella K. Maillart

Another wonderful Virago Modern Traveller’s tale, as Ella Maillart, last seen travelling from Beijing to Kashmir with Peter “brother of Ian ‘James Bond'” Fleming, travels from Geneva to Kabul with her friend and fellow traveller, ‘Christina‘. It’s 1939, and they make the journey in Christina’s Ford car. The book focuses on their friendship as much as their travels, and has been made into a film, The Journey to Kafiristan.

I love reading about adventurous women travellers of the last century, and before. Yes, they come from privileged backgrounds, even when they claim not to, but they are going against the expectations and conventions of the age, plus they are still making the effort to get out and explore the world and encounter different people and cultures, and all this at a time before Lonely Planet or the internet. One of Ella Maillart’s main sources for her journey was the 7th century Chinese Buddhist monk, Hsuan Tsang.

Much of the book follows their experiences in Persia, and Afghanistan – and it makes me long to go back to the former (and the north western areas of Pakistan –  ‘Kafiristan‘ was Maillart’s ultimate destination – ultimately unrealised on this trip, once World War II started), and saddens me that realistically I’ll never get to experience the ancient wonders of the latter. I love that part of the world, its ancient cultures and kingdoms, its place at the centre of the Silk Roads and encounters between east and west, north and south.

Abebooks page: The Cruel Way – Ella K. Maillart