Monday, 10 March 2008

The 8.55 to Baghdad

I’ve just come across a book first published four years ago by Andrew Eames, a London-based journalist. The 8.55 to Baghdad is a travel book with a difference, in that it follows in the footsteps of Agatha Christie’s journey to the Middle East in 1928 – a journey that changed her life. Eames was in Aleppo when he heard that Christie had stayed there about three-quarters of a century earlier. He knew next to nothing about the detail of Christie’s life and had, like so many people, thought of her ‘as someone who belonged in the heart of English village life’.

Eames became fascinated by the idea of a thirty-something single mother travelling out on her own to Iraq, and falling in love with the place to such an extent that ‘thereafter she spent thirty winter seasons living in testing conditions 3,000 miles from home, in a land of Kurds, Armenians and Palestinians, doling out laxatives to help the sheikh’s wives with their constipation.’

Eames writes vividly and, as a long-time Christie fan, I like the idea that he came to realise that there was much more to this remarkable woman than her detractors seem to appreciate. It is not mere chance that Christie has become a global publishing phenomenon – there are reasons for it, and they lie in the books, and in the character of the woman who produced them.

I haven’t got far into Eames’ book yet. But so far it is excellent.

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