MAUREEN CLEAVE, DAILY TELEGRAPH A scholarly romantic in a school of her own, the depth of Lesley Blanch’s research is such that other writers plunder her books shamelessly
“There have been many women who have followed the beckoning Eastern star” says Lesley Blanch. She writes about four such women in The Wilder Shores Of Love — Isabel Burton (who married the Arabist and explorer Richard), Jane Digby el-Mezrab (Lady Ellenborough, the society beauty who ended up living in the Syrian desert with a Bedouin chieftain), Aimée Dubucq de Rivery (a French convent girl captured by pirates and sent to the Sultan's harem in Istanbul), and Isabelle Eberhardt (a Swiss linguist who felt most comfortable in boy's clothes and lived among the Arabs in the Sahara).
They all escaped from the constraints of nineteenth century Europe and fled to the Middle East, where they found love, fulfillment, and “glowing horizons of emotion and daring”. Blanch’s first, bestselling book, it pioneered a new kind of group biography focusing on women escaping the boredom of convention.
CARSON McCULLERS I am enchanted with Lesley Blanch’s book. I believe that it is a classic of the belles lettres genre. It is a book of such radiance and strength
FREYA STARK [in a letter to Lesley Blanch dated 5/12/80] How many years ago it is since I wrote a truly genuine and enthusiastic review on The Wilder Shores Of Love ... a book as excellent as its title
VAL HENNESSY, DAILY MAIL Their true stories, first told grippingly by Blanch in 1954, are amazing ... makes you realise that we, with our wimpish long-haul packages and compulsory travel insurance, don't know we're born
SUNDAY EXPRESS A dazzling experiment in biography
WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD Love, wanderlust, faraway places — all that Romance implies - make up this delicious book
NEW YORKER Four seething but most enjoyable studies in headlong nonconformity
GRAHAM LORD, DAILY TELEGRAPH Lesley Blanch has a mischievous chuckle, a girlish voice, precise enunciation and claims that The Wilder Shores of Love is popular because it sounds pornographic ... She loves the Arab world as much as her subjects did, and is just as romantic and exotic as they were ... Blanch may be romantic but is never naive
THE TIMES Four variations on the theme of the nineteenth century woman who turns to the East for her adventurous life and love. They are, indeed, an odd quartet, well selected for the parallelism and contrast, each one in a measure freakish, enterprising, legendary and fully deserving Miss Blanch's lively and expressive portraiture
DAILY TELEGRAPH Lesley Blanch can reconstruct, to the point of recreation, the several atmospheres through which all her subjects passed ... The exploitation of the great lovers, especially the great female lovers, of history is a tale more than twice told; but when it is done with the psychological acumen and the physical sensitivity of Lesley Blanch it is not only still worth doing but enthralling to read
A bestseller which has never gone out of print in English. Biography. John Murray, 1954, illus. Translated into 12 languages.
Current reprint, Phoenix House/Orion Books, 1993 PB 336 pages £7.99 ISBN 1857990625
US edition: Simon & Schuster, 2010 PB 368 pages $15 ISBN 1439197342
French edition translated by Guillaume Villeneuve. Editions Denoel, 2005, PB 496 pages 25 € ISBN 220725576X
German edition Verlag Ullstein GmbH (1984). Italian edition La Taratuga (November, 1992). Arabic edition Barzan Publishing Ltd, Beirut (August, 2006)
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Buy from amazon.com The Wilder Shores of Love With a foreword by Naomi Wolf
The definitive biography of the Muslim chieftain Imam Shamyl, the ‘Lion of Daghestan’, it took six years to complete, with research done in Russia and the Caucasus, including tracing his descendants in Turkey and Egypt. Also a historical narrative, there are beautiful descriptions of the Caucasus — a region of supreme natural beauty and mighty mountain ranges —- and the campaigns in which Lermontov and Tolstoy participated.
During the Caucasian Wars of Independence of 1834-1859, the warring mountain tribes of Daghestan and Chechnya united under the charismatic leadership of Imam Shamyl — strengthened only by the desire for an independent Caucasus and their religious faith. For years Shamyl defied his enemy, the Tsar, who had taken his eldest son as a hostage to St Petersburg. Shamyl captured in turn two Georgian princesses (from the Tzarina’s entourage), a French governess, and the children, and kept them in his harem until they could be exchanged for his son. Lesley Blanch’s epic account of the heroic and bloody struggles, and her vivid portrayal of the strange and magnetic rebel Imam who became a legend, is particularly relevant in light of the continuing conflict in Chechnya. The great leader and his fiercely proud warriors haunt the Russian psyche to this day.
LESLEY BLANCH "General de Gaulle wrote me a lovely letter about The Sabres of Paradise, and I have heard that he said it was remarkable that a woman should be able to understand the battles so well and describe them so vividly"
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW Twentieth-century Russia is only nineteenth-century Russia writ large. Miss Blanch's book is therefore especially welcome for she has provided a gallery of Russian portraits and in the course of her story outlined Russian foreign policy through most of the nineteenth century. I can imagine no better introduction to modern Russia
THE GUARDIAN Crammed with truly fabulous stories of fighting and love and violent death ... this profound and exhilarating book turns the struggle of the people of the Caucasus to remain independent of Russia into a universal saga ... it is no wonder Shamyl had such a powerful influence on Tolstoy and Pushkin
THE TIMES A masterly account of Chechnya’s struggle against 19th-century Tsarist Russia, ominously relevant to today’s conflict. Lesley Blanch’s portrait of Shamyl, the Chechen leader-prophet, is widely admired and she is still consulted by historians
LE MONDE A magnificent historical drama; a marvellous, impassioned biography of Imam Shamyl
HAMISH BOWLES in JACQUELINE KENNEDY: THE WHITE HOUSE YEARS (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York & Bulfinch Press, 2001) Jacqueline Kennedy and Khrushchev maintained a spirited badinage through dinner. Mrs Kennedy had recently read The Sabres of Paradise, Lesley Blanch?s dashing history of the Muslim tribes' resistance to Russian expansionism in the Caucasus, and attempted to engage the Soviet premier in conversation on the subject. He responded with the comparative numbers of teachers per capita in the Soviet and Czarist Ukraine. She cut him off with the playful riposte, 'Oh, Mr Chairman, don?t bore me with statistics'
BRIAN ALDISS A book as thick with flavour as roast wild boar, tusks and all. One of the most nutritious books I have ever read
Great Britain-Russia Society Journal — review by Laurence Kelly of The Sabres Of Paradise, Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus. Dec, 2004
Biography. John Murray, 1960, illus. PB (OP), I. B. Tauris, 2004. With an Introduction by Philip Marsden. PB 550 pages £12.99 ISBN 1850434034
French edition translated by Jean Lambert Editions Denoel, 2004, PB 684 pages 25 € ISBN 2207255891
"I must have been about four years old when Russia took hold of me with giant hands" writes Lesley Blanch. When a friend of her parents whom she simply calls The Traveller blew into her nursery, muffled in heavy furs and full of the fairytales of Russia, with gifts of Faberg? eggs and icons, he instilled in her a lifelong passion. She was twenty when he swept out of her life, leaving her in the grip of a tremendous obsession. The search to recapture her great love, and the Russia he had planted within her, takes her to dingy apartments reeking of cabbage soup and piroshkis on the outskirts of Paris in the 1960s; to Siberia and beyond — journeying deep into the romantic terrain of the mind's eye. Part travel book, part love story, Lesley Blanch's memoir is pure intoxication.
DAILY TELEGRAPH The stuff that dreams are made of...
PHILIP ZIEGLER If you are interested in Russia — if you are interested in love — this haunting book is one to read and re-read. A masterpiece
SPECTATOR One of the finest books about Russia ... one of the best travel books of its generation
NEWSDAY A jewel-filled narrative — breathtaking, exotic and brilliant
HARVARD REVIEW The perceptions of a fine writer ... all cast upon a gorgeous Russian canvas
TOM DRIBERG, PEOPLE A curiously beautiful daydream of a book ... irresistible reading
Autobiography. Collins, 1968, illus.Current reprint, Eland Books, 2001. PB 352 pages ?12.99 ISBN 1900209128
French edition translated by Guillaume Villeneuve. Editions Denoel, 2003, PB 494 pages 22 € ISBN 2207253880
Buy from amazon.co.uk Journey into the Mind's Eye
Buy from amazon.com Journey into the Mind's Eye
PIERRE LOTI, Portrait of an Escapist
When Pierre Loti — adulated writer, naval officer, traveller, amateur acrobat and escapist — died in 1923, he was given a state funeral, the only French writer to have received such an honour other than Victor Hugo. Bohemian, exotic and fiercely romantic; adored and scorned by French society in equal measure, Loti spent his life escaping the constraints of bourgeois France — and in so doing redefined his age. He travelled the South Seas, Asia and the Middle East (his great obsession) and loved with intense passion and freedom wherever he went. Lesley Blanch's biography revived an interest in this "unjustly neglected" French writer and launched reprints of his novels and travel books in France. She says, "He was not just a mawkish and sentimental writer as some think. Remember, people like Henry James and Marcel Proust greatly admired him. He wrote beautifully and had very sensuous rhythms. He could also be ghastly grim — Aziyadé, a burning Turkish love story, opens with an execution."
LESLEY BLANCH "It's awfully easy to say of someone who wears high heels and a painted face that he was a pederast. I think Pierre Loti was everything. He loved men and he loved women and if there had been a third sex he would have loved that one too"
GABRIELLE ANNAN, NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS What makes Loti so extraordinary and this book so enthralling is not that he was an escapist, but that he was an escapologist, getting out of scrapes and away with behaviour that would normally lead to disaster, disgrace, even death. Lesley Blanchis a most congenial biographer for this eccentric man ... She has a natural sympathy with people who live out their fantasies ... She also has the sense of humour her subject lacks, and is very funny without ever being unkind
NOEL PERRIN, WASHINGTON POST Anyone who reads this book will have a marvellous time. Lesley Blanch has written an exceptionally good biography of an exceptionally interesting man. Even if you have never heard of Loti until this minute, even if you never plan to read any of his books, I recommend it to you
Pierre de Boisdeffre: Pierre Loti by Lesley Blanch. August, 1986, Revue des Deux Mondes
full review pdf1
Biography. Collins, 1983, illus. PB (OP), I. B. Tauris, 2004. With an Introduction by Philip Mansel. PB 340 pages £12.99 ISBN 1850434298
French edition translated by Jean Lambert. 320 pages illus. Reprint Editions du Rocher (June, 2007)
Buy from amazon.co.uk Pierre Loti