Reviews

Unfortunately deprived of a critical apparatus of any kind except the maps and the illustrations at the centre of the volume (there is no table of content either . . .), this work is by a French writer specialising in the apology of mountain and of mountain cultures.  Documented principally by English-language published primary sources, it consists of a novelised biography of the Hungarian philologist and traveller Alexander Csoma Körösi, a pioneering lexicographer of Tibetan language.  The work focuses on the philosophical basis of Csoma’s itinerary (the quest for the origins of the Hungarian people in Higher Asia), on the innumerable difficulties he had to cope with on his way from Hungary to the Himalaya and during his stays in Zanskar, at the doorway of Tibet, and on his complex relationship with the Asiatic Society in British India.  Key issues of European travel in Central Asia in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century like disguise, dissimulation, and illegality are overrepresented in Csoma’s biography; they have probably played a decisive role in S. Jouty’s interest in this sour-tempered character’s biography.  Besides, the narrative quality of the book in unquestionably enhanced by the insertion of chapters and paragraphs of more colourful figures of the European discovery of Central Asia (like William Moorcroft, Csoma’s main patron in India, or Mir ‘Izzat-Allah, the author of a famous travelogue that is not mentioned in the text) and of European presence in the British Raj (like Allard and Ventura, two former officers of Napoleon’s Grande Armée, acting as military councelors at Ranjit Singh’s court).  The reviewer would like to bet that, if it is hardly usable as a reference work, and if Csoma can hardly be called a charismatic, if captivating figure, this biography, beautifully printed—tough poorly edited—by a leading publishing house will play some role among the French-speaking young generations in the starting of new vocations of specialists in Central Eurasian studies.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-1.2.B-60