I propose to you that Agatha Christie is as important to us as text books in today’s context.
She is of course remembered most for her quaint English cozies with elderly sleuths sipping tea and little Belgian men tracking killers down cottage lanes, but these are not my favorites or in my opinion her most important.
I will confess, I do not read fiction analytically. I allow myself to go where the author wishes. Therefore, my favorites are her Middle Eastern and African based novels.
By way of her pen we are allowed to discover the beauty and dangers of South Africa in The Man In The Brown Suit, the clash of European and Native North African cultures in Destination Unknown, the intrigue of an archeological dig in Murder In Mesopotamia, a pleasure cruise down the Nile in Death On The Nile, and an incredible street view of Baghdad in the 1950s in They Came To Baghdad. But what makes these works so much more fun for me is that Agatha Christie was not a research based author. She wrote about what she saw with her own eyes.
Agatha had experienced some exotic travel in her earlier years, but had long since settled into English country life. Then in 1930 her life changed dramatically when, at the age of 40, she hopped aboard the Orient Express and headed east. At that point she was a relatively successful novelist with a disappointing personal life. By the time she returned to England she was fascinated by the ancient cultures of the east….and she was engaged to an up and coming archeologist.
Consequently, over the next 30 years she spent a considerable portion of her life in the Middle East and North Africa, often living on the dig sites with her beloved Max, during the time when the Valley of the Kings was a new concept. Of course her portable typewriter was always close at hand.
I would LOVE to see the world she wrote about, but tragically much of it is lost to us. Lebanon has been stripped of her beauty, Baghdad’s tourist industry is no more, and most of Egypt’s mysteries are locked up in museums. So, we are often only left with text books full of dates and facts, perhaps a few pictures. Unless you read Agatha Christie.
We may never get lost in North Africa, stumble upon Victoria Falls, ride along the Nile, watch the excavation of the Ur of Chaldees, or sleep in a hotel on the Euphrates river, but at least Agatha give us a little glimpse of what it was like.
If you’d like to read more about one incredible life, I highly recommend The Life And Crimes Of Agatha Christie by Charles Osborne. As for me, I am currently joining Hercule Poirot on a trip on the Orient Express from Syria to London. (Murder On The Orient Express, 1934)