Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Come, Tell Me How You Live ~ my review

In her Foreword, Agatha Christie Mallowan cautions the reader not to expect grand revelations in her archaeological travel journals, which have been compiled into the book Come, Tell Me How You Live. She says it is only “everyday doings and happenings.” Grand revelations they may not be, but what fascinating, delightful stories! When I finished reading this book, I just wanted to read it all again.

Although Christie’s husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, and his crew sought artifacts from 4000 B.C. civilizations and earlier, Christie’s diaries of their digs illumine Middle Eastern civilization in the 1930s and 1940s. Her stories show acceptance, good humor, cleverness, and curiosity regarding Syrian, Armenian, Turkish, Serbian, and Arab cultures as well as frustrations of their conflicting religious beliefs and primitive living conditions. Furthermore, the reader gains a clear understanding that Christie loves these people despite difficulties of living and working there for months at a time. In her words, “For I love that gentle fertile country and its simple people, who know how to laugh and how to enjoy life; who are idle and gay, and who have dignity, good manners, and a great sense of humour, and to whom death is not terrible.”

I marveled at Christie’s pluck and aplomb facing dust storms, scorching desert heat, cockroaches, mice, bats, no plumbing, no roads, and unreliable vehicles, among other obstacles. I enjoyed the frequent humor in her descriptions and laughed out loud at some stories. Her observations of the people on their archaeological teams as well as the locals they encountered fascinated me; she showed such acceptance and good humor. Even when the British visitors clearly knew they were being taken advantage of by local authorities, they just grinned and aimed for win-win solutions. I so enjoyed going along on Christie’s happy, sporting adventures.

The only downside to this book is its lack of maps. Today’s maps don’t show relevant towns and boundaries from 70 years ago. Also, Christie often refers to routes, rivers, and tells (such as Tell Halaf and Tell Brak, mounds indicating ancient villages) that I’d like to be able to picture. Photos of people, places, vehicles, and operations would also have enhanced my experience.

Come, Tell Me How You Live is itself a lively, entertaining sociology-anthropology study. Christie's joy in being among Middle Eastern peoples is evident.

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