May 26, 2015
Agatha Christie’s forgotten memoir
by Nick Davies
In addition to writing more than 60 mystery novels, Agatha Christie also once wrote a travel memoir about the time she spent in the Middle East, traveling with her archaeologist husband. While the book has never gone out of print, HarperCollins announced last week that it will be publishing the first new edition in over 20 years.
Alison Flood reports for the Guardian that Come, Tell Me How You Live will be reissued this August. Christie traveled with her husband, Max Mallowan, through Syria and Iraq in the 1930s, visiting archaeological sites. She writes emotionally about places like Palmyra, especially poignant now as Isis has taken control of the world heritage site:
After seven hours of heat and monotony and a lonely world – Palmyra! That, I think, is the charm of Palmyra – its slender creamy beauty rising up fantastically in the middle of hot sand. It is lovely and fantastic and unbelievable, with all the theatrical implausibility of a dream. Courts and temples and ruined columns … I have never been able to decide what I really think of Palmyra. It has always for me the dreamlike quality of that first vision. My aching head and eyes made it more than ever seem a feverish delusion! It isn’t – it can’t be – real.
The author describes her book as a “meandering chronicle” and a “small beer” of a book, and says in the opening pages that she wrote it as a response to people’s curiosity about her travels. “This book is an answer,” writes Christie, “It is the answer to a question that is asked me very often. ‘So you dig in Syria, do you? Do tell me all about it. How do you live? In a tent?’ etc, etc.”
David Brawn of HarperCollins tells the Guardian that Come, Tell Me How You Live “was a bit of a niche publication and is very much her forgotten book. But it’s just a lovely book, [and] with what’s been happening around those areas with Isis, with the destruction of historical monuments – well, these are the places Agatha went to, where Max was the principal archaeologist.” The reissue will feature 40 “long-forgotten” photographs from the first edition, many of them taken by Christie; it publishes on August 27.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.