Upon his debut in 2006, critics rightly hailed Rory Stewart’s book about his walk across Afghanistan, The Places In Between [Kindle], a “flat out masterpiece” but too few explored the full extent of his debt to gay travel writer Robert Byron. The book’s tone, observations, humor, sketches, and history lessons follow the template established by Byron’s classic The Road to Oxiana (reissued with a preface by Stewart). Bruce Chatwin considered Byron's book "a sacred text," and Patrick Leigh Fermor's writing also reflects Byron's tremendous influence. At Eton and Oxford he nurtured the love of architecture so evident in his work, but at university he was perhaps more known for his impersonation of Queen Victoria. His “hedonistic” life ultimately got him expelled. Undaunted, he traveled. His first great trip was to Mount Athos in Greece, scene of the pig tickling above. Five years after his Greek book,Byron wrote First Russia, Then Tibet: Travels through a Changing World. In Peking, he lived with Desmond Parsons and developed a terrific crush on him before Desmond was stricken with Hodgkin’s Disease and left for a Swiss clinic where he died at twenty-six in July 1937. Devastated, Byron published his magnum opus that year and never wrote another major work. In 1941 he set sail for Egypt, where he was to work for the Times, and his ship sank in a torpedo attack by a German U-Boat. His body was never found. He was thirty-five.
An excerpt after the jump.
"The irruption of the barbarian, dusty, unshaved, and lurching tired, was a trial of manners to which they rose, not without astonishment, but with a bustle and good-will that must have hurt their mood of poetic contemplation. While I lowered myself to the floor, creaking and sprawling like a dog in a doll’s-house, and feasted my nose in the jonquils, fire was kindled, the samovar re-lit, and thick red wine poured out; with his own hands the Governor chopped and skewered the meat to make me a kabob, and roasted it over the charcoal embers; then he was dismembering tangerines and sugaring them, for my pudding. In the end he went so far as to offer me his own bed. I explained mine was coming, and begged the room below to put it in."
p.146-7, The Road to Oxiana