Return of the King: William Dalrymple AWRF 2013

Cover: Return of a kingSince he first went to India in 1984 at the age of 18 William Dalrymple has been hooked on Delhi. This fascination lead to City of Djinns, White Mughals and The Last Mughal; books that both Salman Rushdie and the New York Review of Books called “compulsively readable”. Max Hastings, another big name at the festival, called him “an outstandingly gifted historian”.

In Return of a King he has turned his gifts to the 1837 British invasion of Afghanistan, an invasion launched by Lord Auckland, the man who gave his name to the city where the audience to hear Dalrymple formed itself into a large crush  in the foyer of the Aotea Centre.

Bad manners abounded in the queue to get through the doors and secure a good seat. Discreet and then overt queue jumping, gentle then firm pushing;  they were all on full display. The only relief came from eavesdropping on conversations about booking a villa in Tuscany for this Northern summer.

In a way it’s a shame we weren’t assembled outside the Aotea Centre as apparently there is a municipal flower bed featuring a statue of Lord Auckland. It stood in Calcutta until 1969 when the Bengalis decided Auckland was a much more suitable place for it.

Dalrymple was urbane, he was  entertaining, he had a lovely voice, he had fascinating things to say. The crowd loved it although the laughter at the folly of the English died out as the session went on and the dreadful suffering and losses of the defeat became evident.

As for the future of Afghanistan in the world? Not cheery.

For those who like to know who writers rate and read, Dalrymple’s list of the best books about Afghanistan includes:

Dalrymple’s favourite travel writer is Patrick Leigh Fermor, Artemis Cooper‘s biography of Fermor was one of Dalrymple’s best books of 2012 and he thinks Robert Macfarlane is Fermor’s heir.

The For Later list grows ever longer.

5 thoughts on “Return of the King: William Dalrymple AWRF 2013

  1. Gallivanta 18 May 2013 / 2:47 pm

    Any chance of a photo of Lord Auckland and his municipal flower bed?

    • Donna 18 May 2013 / 2:56 pm

      Now that’s spooky. I took a photo after this morning’s Mad on Radium session and will be uploading soon. Had never spotted Lord Auckland before.

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