||My Khyber Marriage: Experiences of a Scotswoman
as the Wife of a Pathan Chieftan’s Son
Morag Murray Abdullah
Riders' Guild Press.
I recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more
about the Afghanistan that existed long before the Soviet intrusion in the
1970s, the emergence of the Taliban and NATO’s intervention in a post
Morag Murray, a Scot, married the son of a Pathan
chieftain just after World War I, converted to Islam and followed her
husband to his home near the Khyber Pass. She was an adventurous,
independent young woman, unusual for those times, who enthusiastically
learnt the language and customs of her husband’s people and entered
fully into their life.
She has written a remarkable insider’s view of
Afghan culture. The description of her extraordinary wedding and its
preparations (worth reading for that alone), her life amongst the tribes,
the exquisite manners expected of all people, and the affection and
bravery of her new family and friends make this an exceptional memoir.
This account of her married life stands as a
wonderful testament to the author, her husband and to her adopted country
of Afghanistan. Her marriage lasted over forty years, until her death in
Murray’s grandson is the popular travel writer,
Tahir Shah, who may be known to readers for his books including: The
Caliph’s House: a Year in Casablanca, In Arabian Nights and The
|Seven Seasons in
Aurukun: My Unforgettable Time at a
Remote Aboriginal School
Allen and Unwin
Aurukun is a remote area in Northern Queensland near
the Gulf of Carpentaria. To describe life in this remote indigenous
community as confronting and extremely difficult is an understatement. At
Aurukun had a population of 1,043. Of that number there are approximately
900 indigenous individuals belonging to five tribal groups; this often
leads to tensions and violence.
As I read this book I could see clearly how the
education system we take for granted elsewhere in Australia has little
relevance to the children of Aurukun, and I found myself wondering what
should take its place.
The author, Paula Shaw, is a born teacher and also
happens to be my neighbour. Underpinning everything she does and in spite
of her frustrations, exhaustion and tears, is the strong desire to help
her pupils and not let them down. I found this book difficult to put
down because so much of it showed an aspect of Australian life that is a
world away from most of us. Shaw loves nature and has a huge respect for
the way the children she taught live as part of the land and understand it
in a way a whitefella never will.
Shaw’s book is a no-holds-barred memoir of her time
spent in Aurukun. Some of the dialogue is ‘ripe’, reflecting the every
day English of Aurukun. Her descriptions are full of gems like: ‘I’m a red soup of sniffling, sweat and sobs’ or ‘I want to
take my brain out and rest from this’.
For freshness and candour, for information, and much
more, this is a modern classic.
||Over the Edge of the
N Y. Harper Collins,
At school we learnt of Magellan’s voyage, the
Straits of Magellan, the Magellanic Clouds, Patagonia, the Spice Islands,
but nothing at all of the sufferings he, and the members of his
This is a tale without heroes; indeed it seems
impossible for anyone to be heroic in the face of three years of suffering
including: deprivation, disease, mutiny, murder, and shipwreck, plus large
doses of evangelistic zeal. Envisaging the conditions under which these
sailors existed is almost impossible today.
Two hundred men set sail in five ships—only one
ship and eighteen men returned to Spain; Magellan not amongst them. The
survivors returned to Spain carrying large amounts of the cloves and
nutmeg that formed a stronger basis for wealth than did gold, at the time.
In the course of their voyage, Magellan and his men
encountered strange peoples with even stranger customs. I found these
fascinating and bizarre tales helped counter the horror I felt when reading harrowing descriptions of how the
Magellan’s voyage is said to have bridged the old
world and the new, bringing Europe into contact with ways of thinking,
living and being that had never before been imagined. Of course its
purpose was hardly altruistic; its purpose was to gain commercial,
political and religious power. After reading this book there are times
when one wishes they had saved themselves the agony and distress and
stayed at home.