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Strange Bewildering Time: Istanbul to Kathmandu in the Last Year of the Hippie Trail

Intriguing, eye-opening and relevant, House of Anansi Press announces the upcoming book launch for Strange Bewildering Time: Istanbul to Kathmandu in the Last Year of the Hippie Trail by Mark Abley. In the spring of 1978, at age twenty-two, Mark Ableyput aside his studies at Oxford and set off with a friend on a three-month trek across the celebrated Hippie Trail—a sprawling route between Europe and South Asia, peppered with Western bohemians and vagabonds. It was a time when the Shah of Iran still reigned supreme, Afghanistan lay at peace, and city streets from Turkey to India teemed with unrest. Within a year, many of the places he visited would become inaccessible to foreign travellers.  Mark Abley will launch his latest book with readings and a Q&A on Sun. February 5 at Paragraphe Bookstore at 2pm. Advance reviews offer high praise for the book.

From Publishers Weekly: “… For Abley, this three-month trip offered an irresistible allure, but his expectations soon clashed with reality: rising tensions between the Turks and the Kurds (at the time of their visit to central Turkey, the government denied the existence of the Kurds) and political unrest in Kabul (a coup had taken place and Afghanistan’s borders were closed) put a damper on his optimism. Still, Abley and Clare befriended other travelers, explored the underground city of Kaymakli, and attended a Turkish disco. With vivid descriptions (on riding a bus to reach Kashmir Valley: “The air smelled delicious: mingled scents of cedars, pines, and alpine flowers in the precipitous green meadows”) and frank reflections (“Privilege allowed us to ignore the daily lives of the local people we noticed along the way”); readers will marvel at this nostalgic travelogue.”

Drawing from the tattered notebooks he filled as a youthful wanderer, Abley brings his kaleidoscope of experiences back to life with vivid detail, like clambering across a glacier in Kashmir and travelling by train among Baluchi tribesmen who smuggled kitchen appliances over international borders. He also reflects on the impact of the Hippie Trail and the illusions of those who journeyed along it. “The lively immediacy of Abley’s journals combined with the measured wisdom of his mature, contemporary voice provides rich insight, bringing vibrant witness and historical perspective to this beautifully written portrait of a region during a time of irrevocable change,” said House of Anansi Press Publisher Leigh Nash.

Strange Bewildering Time evokes a keen sense of place and provides a kind of photograph not just of space but of time. “Very few readers will ever have had the good fortune to visit Isfahan, Shiraz, Srinagar, or many of the other cities I describe. I hope they’ll come away from the book with a richer appreciation of the incredible cultures of south and west Asia,” said Abley. “I also like to think the book offers a visceral feeling of the year in which I travelled, 1978. I refer, often obliquely, to more than thirty songs from the late ‘60s and ‘70s; the title is a phrase from a Cat Stevens song about Nepal.”

Though looking back on the 70s, issues in Strange Bewildering Time reflect current disconcerting topics. At points the book touches on extreme nationalism, on climate change, on Islamic and Hindu fundamentalism, and on the impacts of Western colonialism. Abley does all this in a personal, non-academic way. “As well as reflecting on the legacies of the Shah of Iran and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, I describe how–totally by chance–I saw the Shah go by in a motorcade and I met Mrs. Gandhi,” shares Abley.

“Open this book and you’ll get wafts of sandalwood and spices, of sun-baked roads and thumb-worn pages, and a touch of hippie sweat. Mark Abley’s Strange Bewildering Time is a gauge of how people have shaped the world and how the world shaped a wide-eyed poet. There’s nostalgia, humour, and melancholy throughout this story, warm and honestly told. I felt the older man very much alive in this—not so much a tale of someone looking back at a former self but of someone eloquently showing that if we keep our desire to search and express, the best parts of youth don’t die.” — Colin McAdam, author of A Beautiful Truth and Black Dove

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