cover of book

Forbidden Journey
by Ella K. Maillart
translated by Thomas McGreevy
introduction by Dervla Murphy
Northwestern University Press, 2003
Paper: 978-0-8101-1985-7

A classic account of a trip through China during the golden age of travel

In 1935 Ella Maillart contemplated one of the most arduous journeys in the world: the "impossible journey" from Peking, then a part of Japanese-occupied China, through the distant province of Sinkiang (present day Tukestan), to Kashmir. Enlisting with newswriter Peter Fleming (with the caveat that his company remain tolerable), Maillart undertook a journey considered almost beyond imagination for any European and doubly so for a woman.
The trip promised hardships such as typhus and bandits, as well as the countless hazards surrounding the civil war between Chinese communists and Chiang Kai-shek's nationalists. Setting out with pockets full of Mexican money (the currency used in China at the time), Maillart encountered a way of life now lost, but one that then had gone unchanged for centuries.

Maillart describes it all with the sharp eye and unvarnished prose of a veteran reporter-the missionaries and rogues, parents binding daughters' feet with rags, the impatient Fleming lighting fires under stubborn camels. It's a hard road, not that Maillart cares. At all times she is a witty, always-enchanted guide-except when it comes to bureaucrats.

Forbidden Journey ranks among other travel narratives like Fleming's News from Tartary, (based on the same journey) and Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana. But it is also a portrait of a fascinating woman, one of many women from the pre-WWII era who ignored convention and traveled in hidden lands. It remains a vivid account of its time and a classic of travel literature.
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