I’m back in Taiwan now and I’ve been doing some reading. I just finished Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer, a fictionalized retelling of the life of English mountaineer George Mallory and his challenges of Mount Everest which would ultimately prove fatal. I didn’t expect the book to be that stimulating but it was and I finished it in days.
Mallory came of age in the late 19th century and early 20th century, a very interesting time when Great Britain was still the world’s top dog and exploration of the world’s extremes like the Poles and Everest was still being undertaken. Famous figures in history like Robert Falcon Scott, another doomed British explorer who died trying to reach the South Pole, and John Maynard Keyes appear in the story.
While Mallory is a dashing explorer whose mountaineering exploits were remarkable, it is his ultimate fate that makes him so famous. While he died on Everest while making the final ascent to the top, nobody knows whether he actually reached the top and some speculate that perhaps he did. This is controversial because this happened in 1924, 29 years before Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing reached the top successfully in 1953.
Mallory was a driven character with a burning passion for climbing, which he maintained from childhood through secondary school to his undergraduate days at Cambridge and afterwards. Alongside his love of mountains was his love for his wife, which the book also emphasizes. A rivalry with Australian George Finch, another talented mountaineer, is also a major part of the story.
Moving on from mountains to the Muslim world, back in my university days, I came across Tariq Ali who wrote nonfiction books and articles strongly criticizing the US. However, he also wrote a series of novels set across the Islamic world during different periods in history. I read at least three of them – about the great Saladin during the Crusades, Sicily and Muslim Spain. They were poignant and fascinating, providing a solid glimpse into worlds that I am not familiar with and that isn’t often covered in literature (Islamic kingdoms and societies during history). In total, Ali wrote five of these novels and they’ve been repackaged into a complete set. Besides the ones I read, the other two novels were set in Ottoman Turkey and 20th-century Pakistan. The latter Night of the Golden Butterfly is the most recent one, having been released in 2010, and while it’s set in Pakistan, it features a character who has links to a 19th century Muslim kingdom in China. I plan to read it sometime in future.