Eothen by A. W. Kinglake

Eothen: Traces of Travel Brought Home from the East

Eothen means ‘From the East’. The book is fairly short and describes Kinglake’s journey in 1834 through what were then Ottoman countries. He starts with his crossing from Semlin, in Hungary, to Belgrade, in Serbia. He travels to Constantinople (now Istanbul), Smyrna (Izmir), Cyprus, the Holy Land and Egypt. He rides horses, camels and donkeys – no railways back then.

Eothen differs from most travel books in that it tells us more about the people Kinglake met than it does about the places he visited. For example, he visits Cairo and tells us more about people’s reaction to the plague that afflicted the city than he tells us about the city itself. His pen-portraits are delightful. You feel that you would recognise the type of person if you encountered them in real life.

The book describes a kind of travel we are unlikely to ever experience. Travel by sea was controlled by the winds, land travel took place at the speed an animal could move. You had time to really experience the countries that you travelled through. The idea of having to visit the local British consul, usually including dining with him, seems strange in these days of mass travel. Eothen also describes a journey through countries that are harder to reach at the moment (2015). Damascus and Gaza are off-limits unless you want to risk entering a war zone, for example.

Kinglake writes with a light, readable style. In some ways the book is dated, but I found it a pleasant read. Winston Churchill certainly rated Kinglake’s prose style. When a man asked Churchill how to improve his prose, Churchill said, ‘Read Kinglake’. Kinglake’s other famous work is an eight volume history of the Crimean War. Eothen is the easier read.

Please note: for some reason the image is the back of a paperback version of this book. Amazon Link does not allow me to use the image from, say, the Kindle version to link to a print version of a book.

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