Thursday, 22 February 2018

Book Review - The Light Garden of the Angel King by Peter Levi

The Light Garden of the Angel King : journeys in Afghanistan by Peter Levi

London: Collins, 1972

I mentioned in my review of Peter Levi's book of travel and archaeology in Ancient Greece, The Hill of Kronos, that Levi had travelled to Afghanistan with Bruce Chatwin. This book, The Light Garden of the Angel King, is the record of that journey, from Levi's perspective. It is a journal of archaeology and travel, rather than a journal of personalities. It is a journal of a poet, collecting images and events to mull over and use (the poems Levi composed whilst on the journey are in an appendix at the back of the book).

The aim of the journey, for Levi, was to investigate whether the ancient Greek influence on Afghanistan was discernable through its archaeology, and how much of it still remained. Much as Levi does in The Hill of Kronos, he and Chatwin travel through areas where archaeology abounds, but the knowledge of it was minimal or non-existant. Travelling in Afghanistan has always been dangerous from a human and geographical point of view, and Levi has guns pointed at him, sleeps through an earthquake and suffers both extremes of heat and cold during his journey through the rugged hills and valleys of the country.

In this book he gets around quite a bit of the country, from Helmand, to Kandahar, Kabul, through Nuristan and to within sight of the Oxus River, he describes to us ancient citadels, ruined cities, nail-biting 'plane trips and interesting characters met along the way. There are some highly technical sections in the book about the finds Levi makes archaeologically, and these are well supported with footnotes. But, for me, it is his descriptions of the Afghan countryside, in its starkness and beauty, that are the best parts of the book.

Much like The Hill of Kronos, The Light Garden of the Angel King somewhat falls between two stools as a book, neither being a proper archaeological study, nor a full-on travel book. It is, however a good book.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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