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For four months and 500 miles, Colin Thubron walked the mountains of Lebanon, following tracks and rivers. His journey was not only a survey of a remarkable country but a quest for the gods and divinities who held the secrets of death and rebirth in the land's ancient cults.
He visited almost every place of cultural importance and lived with the people along his way, recording a country of outstanding natural scenery, rich with a unique medley of races and religions.
The Hills of Adonis is both a travel book and a personal journal, for the quest is the search for meaning, a reflection on faith and reason and a poem on the joy and complexity of living.
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Lyrical exploration of the Lebanon of 50 years ago
This book evokes an ancient and complex world which has now been submerged by waves of crisis and conflict.
An old-school Englishman traveller, immersed in the cultural iconography of the Middle East, he interprets the landscapes he crosses with a far-reaching historical perspective. The ruins, tombs, castles and monasteries he visits have long histories, narrated with the fluent confidence of the author's familiarity with his topic. It is pleasing that he doesn't focus excessively on himself, and the physical difficulties of walking 500 miles across challenging landscapes.
He describes the hospitality of the inhabitants who invite him freely to stay in their houses, sharing their meals and their time with a stranger. He is modest about his level of competence in Arabic but is able to relate details of the conversations he has or which he hears.
The connecting thread of mythology surrounding Adonis and his multiple manifestations runs throughout the book. He describes the power of myths to manifest themselves under different wrappings, so the figure of Adonis appears in Phoenician, Greek and Christian traditions.
I wonder how much of this old world persists, in a region subsequently torn apart by the conflicts of the Arab-Israeli war, the dreadful drawn-out Lebanese civil war and now the waves of refugees fleeing the butchery of Syria. I suspect it will no longer be possible to wander these old ways without danger. The world he evokes has more in common with the world of The Old Testament or the Crusades than the 21st century.
The writing is full of poetry and charm. A satisfying read but one that seems to come from a time which is now irrevocably lost.
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