On a quest to discover the origins of an exquisite embroidered robe and amulet she found in London, British textile expert Paine chronicles her journeys from Pakistan to Bulgaria through some of the world's wildest outposts of civilization. Determined to track down the source of a tribal dress that protects women against evil spirits, Paine ventures as a lone, vulnerable woman through remote areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Turkey, and Bulgaria she travels armed only with photos of the embroidery, five kilos of luggage, a bottle of vodka, the Afghan amulet around her neck, and cash sewn into her bra and socks. She wends her way by bus, jeep, and hitchhiker's luck through police checks and villages where camels and Kalashinkovs are everyday sights and women's embroidery and crimson sunsets are the only vibrancy in a barren rockscape. A widow in her 60s, Paine stays in homes with bullet-ridden mud walls and in hotels without water, electricity, bedding, phone, or cutlery where she barricades her door to keep out lecherous nocturnal visitors. Babies cry at the sight of her and men either pelt her with rocks or gallantly protect and then assault her. She sneaks into Iran through a Khomeini-crowned gate and is smuggled into Iraq, where Saddam has a bounty on Westerners' heads. Under the protective guises of widowhood, motherhood, and local costume, she enters women's domestic sanctums to view their handiwork. In lyrical prose she describes lands ravaged by extreme seasons and political turmoil, where men discuss nuclear weapons and dowries, and women, hidden by veils, have 18 children while supporting their families. Ultimately, Paine's textile quest, which is solved with a twist, merely provides a pretext for a fascinating and beautifully written account of an odyssey through extreme physical, cultural, and spiritual wildernesses. Paine displays the courage of a frontierswoman and the prose of a poet, making this indispensable for hearty travelers.