Coast of Incense

Stark, Freya. The Coast of Incense: Autobiography 1933 – 1939. London: John Murray, 1953.

Reason read: to finish the autobiography of Freya Stark, started in January in honor of her birth month.

Freya Stark was born to travel. Unafraid. Unconcerned with custom, tradition or the assumed proper behavior of the single woman, Stark was a woman who did as she pleased. Long fascinated with maps she set out to be a lady “traveller” in the middle east. She thought it fun to be “a speck on the map of Arabia” (p 58). The only reoccurring obstacle in her way was illness, whether it be dysentery or the measles, or her heart, she was frequently bed ridden. Never the less she traveled throughout the Hadhramout of South Arabia. As with her other autobiographies, Stark introduces each chapter with a present day impression followed by alternating letters from the time frame. She is careful to weave memory with retrospection to build a compelling portrait of her life.

Personally, I loved her descriptions of Himyar, her pet lizard the best.

Best quotes, “…for no iron curtain yet discovered will stand against the pressure and persistence of life, and I still hope to live long enough to write about an opening door” (preface, p xiii), “..and again astonished me with the strangeness of being rewarded for what one likes to do – although it is, perhaps the best thing to be rewarded for” (p 15), and “A young Yemeni teacher comes three hours a week and Arabic is pouring back into my brain” (p 40).

Author fact: Stark was one feisty woman. Take these quotes for example, “I spent a long time the night before wondering whether I should take our little revolver and shoot the Duce as he came by” (p 6). Then there is this: “Little details one would never think of, such as one’s hostess stopping in the middle of dinner to see if there is vaseline on your knife, as it has just come out of someone’s waistband” (p 72) and “…”but I walked on, stolid and angry, with an occasional remark, on the wickedness of robbing travellers, thrown behind me” (p 246).

Book trivia: The Coast of Incense has a great collection of photographs. There is one of Freya looking like a model in Athens that I just love.

Nancy said: nothing that hasn’t already been said somewhere else.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Lady Travellers” (p 142).



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