East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The explorer that loved music – Henning Haslund

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henning-hasslundHenning Haslund was a Danish explorer.
In the early 1920s he was part of an expedition to Central Asia led by his old military academy chum Carl Krebs.
The idea was to get there and set up a dairy farm.

What happened next is the subject of Mongolian Adventure, that Haslund published somewhere back in the first half of the 20th century; a thick, massive, highly satisfactory book that the fine guys of the Long Riders’ Guild* have reprinted a few years back.
I was given the book as a gift by a friend – and what a wonder it is!

mongolianThis is part travelogue, part memoir, with an ample serving of ethnographic study.
There’s adventures in it, and descriptions of strange peoples and strange places.
There’s photographs taken by the author.
Each chapter opens with a snippet of music – yes, there’s actually a piece of sheet music printed under the chapter heading: popular songs and ballads from the campfires of the steppe nomads.

His interest in music would be a persistent feature of his work – and in the 1930s he returned to the subject, traveling across Mongolia to record live performances of those same ballads.

In his first memoir, Henning brings to life a cast of strange characters, and is at the same time entertaining and thorough in his descriptions.
Be it warlords or nomad chieftains, shamans or merchants, robbers and fellow travelers, Haslund is as sympathetic as he is observant.
Also, he’s subject to no end of adventures – from snowstorms to capture by hostile locals.

After that first dairy farm adventure, Haslund made Central Asia his playground – he explored the Gobi desert with Sven Hedin and his “movable university”.
He lived a number of adventures and published a number of great books.
He died of a heart attack at the age of 52, in Afghanistan.
Reading him is an absolute pleasure.

* I’m slowly collecting a long list of books in the Long Riders’ Guild catalog, another publisher that is bound to sink my already weak finances.


Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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