The Road from Herat - A Life Story by Abigail Youngman

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Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 18 March 2012
The poet and traveller Clare Holtham (Harriet Walter) grew up as a social misfit in a broken household.  Her dogged determination won her a place at Cambridge University, but she simultaneously delighted and exasperated her teachers with her unconventional approach to reading and commenting.  It was only when she discovered the pleasure of travelling to Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan that she found her true metier as a poet, cartographer and recorder of impressions.
The Road from Herat told a fascinating tale of a woman who understood the power of travel as a means of discovering one's identity.  Unlike many of her kind, who continually contrast their 'civilized' European upbringing with the supposedly 'uncivilized,' or 'mysterious' Orient, Claire accepted her encounters at face value, as opportunities for her to learn something about the power of Asia's ancient landscapes and/or cities to transform her way of looking at the world.  She interacted at a close personal level with those she encountered, rather than sustaining the detached persona so characteristic of many travellers.
Abigail Youngman's play traced Claire's ability to translate fragments - of poetry, of maps, as well as of her life - into a form she found meaningful.  The tone was one of optimism, of the power of the imagination to transform apparently random ideas into a poetic form: poetry, in this sense, is something much more than just verse.  The play was interspersed with memories from those who knew Claire, including her Cambridge tutor Jean Gooder and close friend Felicity Rosslyn.
Sara Davies' production was a really uplifting event - marred only by some infelicitious pronunciation of Turkish places and landmarks.