They have arrived! To satisfy my ongoing fascination with Central Asia — and, to an even greater extent, Jenny’s fascination — I recently ordered a number of books about the region. First of all, there’s Like Hidden Fire, the third book in Peter Hopkirk’s trilogy on the British struggle to keep India safe from a northern invasion. While the first two books — The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia and Setting the East Ablaze: Lenin’s Dream of an Empire in Asia — deal with Russia’s ambitions, Like Hidden Fire is the story of the German and Turkish plot to launch a pan-Muslim jihad that would take India from the British and the Caucasus from the Soviets.
Then there are a few books by some of the people whose stories Hopkirk has told so vividly. Mission to Tashkent is Colonel F.M. Bailey’s account of his 16 months serving as a British spy in Tashkent during the Russian Civil War, culminating in his being hired, under a false identity, by the fearsome Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, to go to Bokhara and find one Colonel F.M. Bailey, enemy of the state. Hunted Through Central Asia, is by Paul Nazaroff, a White Russian who led a plot to overthrow the Bolsheviks in Central Asia in 1918. When the plot failed, Nazaroff was forced to flee on a circuitous route that took him from Tashkent overland across the Himalayas and finally to the safety of British “Hindustan.”
The Victorian best-seller A Ride to Khiva takes place in 1875, at the height of the Great Game. It tells the story of Captain Frederick Burnaby, a swashbuckling British officer who spoke seven languages, stood six foot four and weighed 200 pounds. Without authorization, he decided to head off on a thousand-mile journey to see what the Russians were up to in Khiva, which they had conquered and closed to the outside two years earlier.