5 out of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Up until I picked this book up I had never heard of Bruce Wannell. He was a great traveller but has written no travel books. His knowledge of Indo-Persian and Islamic civilization was encyclopaedic and he left no written works on that either. He was an excellent musician and linguist too, he could speak fluently in French, Italian, English or German as well as conversing in Turkish and Greek. His first love though was the cultures of the middle east, speaking Iranian and Afghan Persian so he could absorb as much of their cultures as possible. He could also talk in Arabic, Pushtu, Urdu, Swahili. No wonder he was described as the greatest Orientalist of his generation.
He seems to know everyone too; he would arrive in London to visit friends and within the hour, Afghan musicians would be arriving at their door to play music for the household. Almost everywhere he went he seemed to know someone. His home in the UK was a tiny attic room in York, filled with books and the things that he treasured, but he was most at home in the mountains of Afghanistan and Iran. He had a deep understanding of their culture and he was not among them to prove a point, just to share their way of life. He could mix with the lowliest villager and the most powerful sheikhs and they all respected him
Everyone knew Bruce Wannell, but at the same time I feel as though none of us knew him at all
This book is a series of wonderful and generous tributes from his friends and people that came to know him over his life. It seems that he had the time and kind words for everyone that he met. He would occasionally get himself in trouble, every now and again he could ruffle feathers, but he was a charming man who could almost talk his way out of any situation. He had almost no money and yet still managed to eat and travel. He had an eye for things that gave him pleasure, whether they were ceramics, fine Persian clothes or the tastiest food, he always somehow acquired them. Music was something that gave him enormous pleasure, he would find a home with a piano and persuade the owner to let him play it and then invite people to come and listen. At the various concerts that he arranged there would be anonymous men from the civil service in their suits, William Dalrymple would take one look at them and could tell they were spooks. Was he a spy? Dalrymple implies that he was as he never really got to the bottom of what Wannell was doing in Peshawar or why he had to leave their in a hurry.
Reading this, I now feel that I know him so much better, but this is just the briefest of introductions. There are not many of his type left in the world now and his absence has left a huge gap in the lives of those that could call him their friend.