A veteran travel writer pursues an interest from childhood: Noah, the ark, and the landing.
Antonson (To Timbuktu for a Haircut: A Journey through West Africa, 2013, etc.) shows an indefatigable and intrepid spirit in this swift account of his ascent of Mount Ararat and his travels through some of the most dangerous territory in the Middle East, including Iraq and Iran. Throughout the narrative, he cuts away continually to tell about earlier ascents of the mountain that is now in eastern Turkey (he discusses the nearby Armenians’ displeasure with the current border), other efforts to locate the ark (efforts resulting, he says, in much disingenuous reporting of discoveries), the ancient flood narratives that precede the account in Genesis (Gilgamesh, for example), the actual catastrophic flood possibilities in the region and various theories about the design and construction of the ark, and regional politics and horrors (e.g., the Armenian massacre). Rich with maps and photographs and a devotee’s, if not a scholar’s, knowledge, Antonson’s text moves along with an impressive narrative current whose flow accelerates with his inclusion of much dialogue. His successful Ararat ascent concludes about halfway through, and the second half of the book deals with his ensuing travels in the region. His courage and his trust in his fellow human beings must be astonishing, for he repeatedly got into cars with people he barely knew and drove through dark streets of unfamiliar (and sometimes dangerous) places. Somehow, he always managed to arrive (more or less at the intended time) safely at his destination. Only occasionally does he confess anxiety over a certain situation. When he finally landed in London, he writes that he “reentered the worlds of schedules and precision.” Also in the city, he was able to see the ancient “flood tablet” to which he alluded throughout.
A book filled with the enthusiasm of discovery, the delight in accomplishment, and the relief of return.