This is a collection of Stark’s writings about her adventure travels in the middle east during the early 1930s, mostly in the Iran/Iraq border region. She traveled on foot and on horseback through what was then (and probably is still) very wild and dangerous country, in a place where women were expected not to be, and managed to face down a good many very difficult and dangerous situations. It’s surprising that she survived; but in fact she continued to travel for decades, and died at age 101.

She was apparently a sort of amateur archaelogist. She was also, apparently, a British spy, making maps for the Empire of areas previously unmapped. Naturally, she met any attempts to portray her as a spy with derision, and I guess that spying was merely a sidelight. Nonetheless, she undoubtedly provided good information as she was quite careful in her mapping (two or three samples are included in the book).

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I had hoped. It began quite quickly to seem like a mere succession of obscure place names - the names of streams or minor mountain ranges, villages comprised of a few tents, that sort of thing. I was able to get some sense of where she was by looking up the major place names in wikipedia. Even so, the English spellings of Persian names can vary considerably. Her “Luristan” is now rendered usually as “Lorestan”; “Alishtar” as “Aleshtar” or even “Alashtar”. Even with the aid of Google maps and wikipedia it was quite difficult to get a sense of where she was, or where she was headed, or, often, why she was headed there, or just what, exactly, she achieved by arriving there. She seems to have wanted to immerse herself fully in the landscape and culture of the middle east; and in that she no doubt succeeded, insofar as that’s possible for an English woman.

Even so, it’s always entertaining to read the accounts of those who have faced great hardship and danger and come out the other side. They seem (either as a cause or effect of their success) to have a light and easy way of writing about their adventures; and Stark is no exception.



Book cover

Metadata Info

  • Title: The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels
  • Author: Freya Stark
  • Published: 1934
  • ISBN: 0375757538
  • Buy: Amazon search
  • Check out: Seattle library
  • Rating: 3.0 stars