Book Review: Recalling a magic carpet ride through South Asia

Brave, humble and compassionate, Harriet Sandys touches our hearts in this moving true story. (Shutterstock)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Book Review: Recalling a magic carpet ride through South Asia

BEIRUT: This evocative title, which conjures up images of the iconic Silk Road, is only a foretaste of what you experience in the book. “Beyond That Last Blue Mountain” recalls the extraordinary journey of Harriet Sandys. At 19, realizing she was completely unqualified, she wondered what a girl from her background could do. Hearing about her brother’s trip to Afghanistan and reading Wilfred Thesiger’s “Desert, Marsh and Mountain” and Eric Newby’s “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush” fired her imagination, and she decided to make that journey.
Four years later, in 1977, a letter inviting her to visit the archaeological sites of Afghanistan changed the course of her life.
After learning how to repair oriental carpets, she worked for the Afghan Refugee Information Network and decided to assess the situation of Afghan refugees at the North-West Frontier. Touched by their extraordinary stoicism, she organized exhibitions of Afghan embroideries and carpets and opened a shop.
However, many of the NGO carpet-weaving programs produced rugs of inferior quality which were unsellable. Harriet wanted to find an alternative project that women could do at home. The Ikat silk-weaving project was born. Over 12 years, she traveled through Pakistan, setting up the project despite problems and setbacks. She miraculously recovered from bacterial meningitis and pursued her humanitarian aid projects in Iraqi Kurdistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
After her departure, the silk-weaving project, contrary to all expectations, thrived thanks to the courage of Saleh, a 17-year-old boy she had trained in Peshawar. He brought the project back to Afghanistan and became a master weaver. The Afghan fashion event held in London in 2011 highlighted one of his creations, a stunning dark-green silk evening dress decorated with calligraphy.
“Oriot,” as she was affectionately called, defied danger, traveling in and around war zones with almost no financial support.
“Had I pondered too long and too hard on all the dangers and difficulties I might have encountered … I would have remained a secretary, regretting missed opportunities,” she said. Brave, humble and compassionate, Harriet Sandys touches our hearts in this moving true story.


What We Are Reading Today: Newton the Alchemist

Updated 21 November 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Newton the Alchemist

Author: William R. Newman

When Isaac Newton’s alchemical papers surfaced at a Sotheby’s auction in 1936, the quantity and seeming incoherence of the manuscripts were shocking. No longer the exemplar of Enlightenment rationality, the legendary physicist suddenly became “the last of the magicians.” Newton the Alchemist unlocks the secrets of Newton’s alchemical quest, providing a radically new understanding of the uncommon genius who probed nature at its deepest levels in pursuit of empirical knowledge.
In this evocative and superbly written book, William Newman blends in-depth analysis of newly available texts with laboratory replications of Newton’s actual experiments in alchemy. He does not justify Newton’s alchemical research as part of a religious search for God in the physical world, nor does he argue that Newton studied alchemy to learn about gravitational attraction. Newman traces the evolution of Newton’s alchemical ideas and practices over a span of more than three decades, showing how they proved fruitful in diverse scientific fields. A precise experimenter in the realm of “chymistry,” Newton put the riddles of alchemy to the test in his lab.
He also used ideas drawn from the alchemical texts to great effect in his optical experimentation. In his hands, alchemy was a tool for attaining the material benefits associated with the philosopher’s stone and an instrument for acquiring scientific knowledge of the most sophisticated kind.