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Peter Pinney p1

READERSVOICE.COM aims to provide a few samples from out of print books. This issue focuses on Dust on my shoes (1952) by Peter Pinney.

It’s an elegant and somewhat picaresque memoir of the author’s journey just after WW2. He travels from Greece, through Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Burma. It isn’t just the locations and situations in Dust on my shoes (1952) that make it fascinating. Or the people Peter Pinney encounters: like Kessler the ex-signaller from a Panzer division he meets in Syria; or Marchand, the philosophical Dutchman.

A major appeal of Dust on my shoes is Peter Pinney’s writing style. It’s an elegant narrative. He uses vivid verbs and adjectives in his sentences. If he describes a sail on a boat, it’s not red: it’s damask. He describes Herat in Afghanistan as being “sprinkled with monuments to the bygone great” and  “in its wrinkled age”. Or in Syria, “the thin bitumen highway wormed into the dunes”.

The humor suits this elegant style. And there is a lot of humor. He travels with very little: often on foot, with just a passport and the clothes on his back, and very little if any money. But he is a resourceful traveller: often bluffing his way past government officials to travel to countries where he has no permit to be.

In a typical example of one of these dodges, he presents a forged document to an Iraqi consul. He is requesting a transit visa through Iraq to Kuwait.

He writes: It was an important-looking document made out on a sheet of headed paper belonging to the Schacht Patent Lifeboat Davit Company, incorporated in London and Amsterdam. It invited the authorities of various countries to assist the passage of one of their engineers who was on tour to supervise the installation of these patent davits in ports; the sheet of paper itself was a legacy of the Dutchman I had known in Istanbul. At the bottom appeared the signature of Charles Fabre, and below that was an attractive orange seal bearing the legend, “Legation des Pays-Bas”, and endorsed by the Dutch Ambassador in London.

It was the reward of two hours’ labour with typewriter and pen at the house of a Damascene in Kayseri.

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