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Hoelun was a passionate woman. Yesugei had whisked her from the arms of her first husband, and she lamented it bitterly. But Yesugei was a passionate man. Like Mae West, Hoelun realized that ""a man in the tent is worth twenty on the steppe."" She gave birth to Genghis Khan, who was born ""clutching in his fist a small lump of blood, the size of a knucklebone. It was clear from this that he had every chance of becoming a great hero."" The relationship of Genghis and Hoelun resembles that of Nero and Agrippina. Genghis was a toplofty ghoul. He had ""the power to arouse exaltation;"" his men, as they ""wheeled and retreated, shooting arrows over their cruppers,"" would ""always cause considerable discomfort to many."" Nevertheless Genghis was a dutiful son. After a family squabble, Hoelun ""sat down with her legs folded under her, pulled out her ample breasts from her dress, spread them out on her knees and said: 'Do you see these? They are the breasts from which you sucked.'"" The Khan blanched. ""When my mother is angered against me,"" he said, ""I am terrified. I am ashamed of myself."" The banality of these intimate scenes, the primitive tableaux of council meetings, Mongol hordes swooping down from the plains, Asiatic juggernauts on ""such a vast scale,"" is equalled only by the author's irremediable folkloric prose based, so the Introduction tells us, on the Secret History, ""the sole contemporary record of the great Khan and his people,"" previously unavailable to historians. Distilling an ancient warrior's soul is a risky business, as even Cecil B. DeMille knew, but surely, in a supposedly serious study, one has the right to expect more than the spiritless details and abysmal psychology illustrated here.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1969
Publisher: Stein & Day