The Sufis, by Idries Shah (Book World, Feb. 3, 1991), is available in paperback from Anchor Books. (Published 2/24/91)
READING Wind, Sand and Stars now it does not seem possible that it was written over 50 years ago, so eloquently and so directly does it speak to our contemporary concerns in the desert. Written to remember those solitary heroes who flew the early mail planes to and over some of the globe's then most remote places, the book was from its origin far more than that. Antoine de Saint-Exupery paid tribute not only to those pilots, but to all men and women who meet the unknown and who live their lives with courage and reason and a certain equanimity.
When I first read Wind, Sand and Stars (available in a Harcourt Brace Jovanovich paperback edition), I thought it a series of great adventures in remote and forbidding places. Now the world -- and I -- are older, if not wiser, and the challenges of those foreign and often fearsome lands mean far more than any solitary man's adventures, however heroic. Saint-Exupery knew the desert intimately and he wrote of it and its peoples with a depth of understanding that we desperately need in the heat of this moment. PAT HOLLIDAY Cortez, Fla.
A Diplomat Remembers
FOR AN interesting and perceptive memoir of travel and adventure by a young British diplomat in remote regions of the Soviet Union in the late 1930s, and his eyewitness accounts of major events in World War II, I recommend Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy Maclean.
The book begins in Paris in the mid-1930s after Maclean's first posting. Restlessness with diplomatic life in Paris and a belief that the Soviet Union held the key to the developing crisis with Germany led Mclean to transfer to the Moscow embassy.
From a society where ideological conflict was played out in the streets, Maclean found himself in Stalin's repressive police state. In Moscow he witnessed one of the most ominous and shocking episodes of Stalin's rule -- the show trials, which involved charges of treason followed by trials and coerced confessions of important members of the Soviet hierarchy.
Maclean's most interesting experiences in the Soviet Union were his travels in 1937 and 1938 to Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, areas that were generally restricted from foreign travel. With the coming of the war Maclean saw his missions change but not their importance. After two years of commando-type activities with the British army in the African desert, Maclean received his most important assignment. Tapped by Winston Churchill to assess the effectiveness of partisan units fighting the Germans in Yugoslavia, Maclean parachuted into the caldron of Balkan politics. For two years he lived and fought with Tito and his partisans, developing trust and cooperation, and a lifelong friendship with Tito.
The book was published by Time-Life Books, Inc., but is now out of print. It is available at public libraries in the metropolitan area. RICHARD H. SCHMIDT Bowie
Men and Mystics
AN INCISIVE 16-page introduction by the inimitable Robert Graves sets the tone for The Sufis, for: "To be 'in the world, but not of it,' free from ambition, greed, intellectual pride, blind obedience to custom, or awe of persons higher in rank -- that is the Sufi's ideal." Indeed, the readability and clarity of Idries Shah's (himself a Sufi) discourse will delight and inform as the reader learns who the Sufis are (certainly not the Muslim mystics described by academics, for a Sufi may perhaps be neither Muslim nor mystic). Yet of even greater moment than the answers given are the questions raised -- provoking the stimulation and curiosity which linger only after the best of books. The reader may then realize that there are no right answers -- only right queries.
Of particular interest to me was the realization, implicit to be sure, of how the Sufi world view, albeit scattered among many societies, languages, and religions, bears a remarkable resemblance to the traditional Chinese approach to man and nature. Forget "man is the measure of all things," and recall rather a Sufi story: "I asked a child, walking with a candle, 'From where comes that light?' Instantly he blew it out. 'Tell me where it is gone -- then I will tell you where it came from.' " The Sufis is out of print.GEORGE SIMEON Arlington
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