The Arabian peninsula, one of the most politically complicated regions on the planet. Throughout Arabia: A Journey Through The Heart of the Middle East, Levison Wood attempts to traverse this land and challenge ours, and his own, perceptions of this land and its people. He finds himself passing through ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of human civilisation itself;the equally beautiful and deadly Empty Quarter (Rubʿ al-Khali) and the Holy Land, spiritual home to three of the world’s largest religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Alongside these great wonders, he sees desperate poverty and inequality, finds himself on the front-line against ISIS and hears heart-breaking stories from victims of nearly a decade of war in Iraq and Syria, as well as victims of the ongoing tensions between Israel and Syria.
Light-hearted stuff, huh? Well no, but Wood brings a general impartiality to these topics that is refreshing. After all, this isn’t a political book and he has no agenda to push – other than maybe the preservation of historical monuments and ruins. It is a travel book, so you just get what Wood experienced through his travels and what the people of the Arabian peninsula tell him, no matter what side. And these people that he meets on his travels really form the heart of this book. You get the briefest glimpse into the lives of a huge variety of people – whether they are a Kurdish fighter against ISIS, a Syrian civilian trying to rebuild their lives in the rubble of Homs, a Saudi Arabian Imam, or Bedouin tribesman from the mountain caves of Jordan. One of my personal favourites parts of the journey were his visit to the marsh lands of Iraq, where he met people living a life that has remained almost unchanged amongst the delta lands of the Tigris and Euphrates for hundreds of years at least!
Alongside meeting such a wide variety of ‘characters’, Wood finds himself visiting some truly stunning places that, as the reader, can only leave you truly jealous. Especially if you’re a history nerd like me. Some are well known, like Petra, Babylon and Jerusalem, while others have hidden below the radar a bit more, such as Al Ula in Saudi Arabia. That place, honestly, looks amazing! Alongside all these historical wonders, he sees some truly spectacular natural ones as well, like the vastness and sand dunes of the Empty Quarter, and the spectacular Dhofar Ridge.
In contrast to all this beauty, we meet some horrific sites as well. The city of Homs in Syria jumps out due to the city pretty much having been levelled completely, as well as the old Mosul ruins and museum, destroyed by ISIS despite its millennia old history.
Overall, I would 100% recommend this book. There isn’t much more to say. Like, or got an interest, in travel writing? Then I think Levison Wood is a good choice. I think this one and his Walking the Nile are my favourites.