Graham Greene (essay date 1937)
SOURCE: "The Byronic East," in The London Mercury, Vol. XXXVI, No. 212, June, 1937, pp. 195-96.
[In the following review of The Road to Oxiana, Greene discusses what he considers the book's strengths and shortcomings.]
"Samarcand, for the last fifty years, has attracted scholars, painters, and photographers. Thus the setting of the Timurid Renaissance is conceived as Samarcand and Transoxiana, while its proper capital, Herat, remains but a name and a ghost. Now the position is reversed. The Russians have closed Turkistan. The Afghans have opened their country. And the opportunity arrives to redress the balance. Strolling up the road towards the minarets, I feel as one might feel who has lighted on the lost books of Livy or an unknown Botticelli."
It is this mixture of scholarship and romanticism that gives Mr. Byron's account of a journey through Persia and Afghanistan [The Road to Oxiana] its unusual and agreeable flavour: the poetic imagination which evokes a personal East so vividly—the roses stuck in the rifles of Afghan soldiers, the opium flowers "glowing in the dusk like lamps of ice, " the dead wolf under a wild fruit tree in pink blossom—is strengthened by the architectural detail, so that at their best his descriptions have the merits of two worlds. Take, for example, his account of the doorways in Persepolis:
Other architectural features are the stairs, the platform, and the palace doors. The stairs are fine because there are so many of them. The platform is fine because its massive blocks have posed, and solved, an engineering problem. Neither...
(The entire section is 694 words.)