Travel writing classics: The Road to Oxiana

The Road to Oxiana,

by Robert Byron (1937)

The Road to Oxiana.jpg

There's a poignancy about reading Robert Byron's account of his journey through the Middle East to Oxiana, on the border with Afghanistan and the former Soviet Union.

Written between the wars, it is a quite astounding marriage of travel adventure, architectural description and stylistic flair as Byron searches for the origins of Islamic art and culture. As a reader, you are filled with joy by his passionate and intricate prose which really do make the time, people and places he travels through spring to life. But then there's the knowledge that just a few years afterward the world was at war, and Byron himself was dead, killed in a U-Boat attack.

Its influence on the genre can not be overstated; Paul Fussell said that The Road to Oxiana is to travel writing what "Ulysses is to the novel between the wars, and what The Waste Land is to poetry." It changed everything - launching a new form where a journey - and an author - evolve and can even be seen to merge over the course of the narrative. Yes, it can perhaps feel a little impenetrable at times for the modern reader - but it's more than worth your persistence. You will never read a travel book like it, and indeed will never read a travel book in the same way again.

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