Come, Tell Me How You Live

by Agatha Christie Mallowan

Hardcover, 1974



Agatha Christie's memoirs about her travels to Syria and Iraq in the 1930s with her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan Agatha Christie was already well known as a crime writer when she accompanied her husband, Max Mallowan, to Syria and Iraq in the 1930s. She took enormous interest in all his excavations, and when friends asked what her strange life was like, she decided to answer their questions in this delightful book. First published in 1946, Come, Tell Me How You Live is now reissued in B format. It gives a charming picture of Agatha Christie herself, and is, as Jacquetta Hawkes concludes in her Introduction, 'a pure pleasure to read'.

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(123 ratings; 4)

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LibraryThing member tapestry100
Come, Tell Me How You Live is Agatha Christie's memoir of her time spent with her husband while he was on an archaeological dig in Syria. Christie proves she is just as capable of writing about her everyday life as she is her murder mysteries. And she's surprisingly funny, too! There was more than one occasion where I laughed out loud at some of her descriptions of her adventures.

What surprised me most was how adaptable she was to her surroundings. I think I've been carrying around a inaccurate mental image of the Christie; one of a woman who enjoys her comforts and wouldn't be the type to be roughing it in tents in the Syrian wilderness, but what was presented in this memoir was the complete opposite. Christie had no problems going camping on route to the various digs that her husband was scouting out, but at the same time, she certainly didn't mind returning to London after several months abroad. It was very interesting to "see" firsthand what it was like to work on one of these archaeological digs in the 1930s-40s.

The only thing that I found lacking in the book was just a personal observation. She mentions writing one of her books during one of the seasons in Syria, but she never says which one it is! I would love to know which book she was writing at the time to see if her experience on the dig influenced the tone or feel of the story that she was writing.

Overall this was a fun little book and a nice departure from the usual Christie mystery fare. If you are a fan of Agatha Christie, I'd highly recommend giving this book a read. It's been out of print for awhile, so you may need to see if your library can get a copy for you, but I don't think you'll be disappointed.
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LibraryThing member MusicMom41
This memoir tells of the time Christie spent with her archeologist husband Max Mallowan for the 3 or 4 years excavating Tells in Syria before WWII. Once you get past the first chapter (shopping for clothes for the trip--I hate shopping for anything but books!) it is quite enjoyable, told with grace and humor about a living a lifestyle that suited her well. However, reading it now, in the 21st century, also gives one a hint of some of the tensions between the different factions in the area at that time which have since burgeoned into major international problems in our time.… (more)
LibraryThing member DarthDeverell
In Come, Tell Me How You Live, Agatha Christie Mallowan reflects on her time accompanying her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan on his digs in Syria. Adapted from her recollections of the 1930s, the tone reflects a colonial perspective of the Syrians and neighboring peoples and tribes, approaching the "noble savage" stereotype at points. Her descriptions of the digs themselves fall short of a proper archaeological record, but reflect the popular attitudes toward such enterprises, where a certain devil-may-care attitude pervaded and finds deemed "trivial" or "insignificant" are tossed away rather than carefully cataloged as archaeologists would today.
Come, Tell Me How You Live is a memoir very much of its time, reflecting the attitudes and prejudices of its day. Though progressive for her day, Christie's attitudes will appear backward by modern standards. The final section of Chapter 12 and the Epilogue show that, even as she compiled this volume, Christie was more concerned with the memory of happier times while living in the latter days of World War II than in providing a sound academic record of archaeological digs in the period. Fans of Christie's writing or scholars of the period are sure to find insight in this volume, but it may not appeal to the casual reader.
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LibraryThing member BookAngel_a
This is the first Agatha Christie book I've read that was NOT a mystery. I was not sure if I would enjoy it but I did! One of the reviews said "it is impossible for Christie to write a dull book" and I now agree with that statement.
Reading this is like entering another world. I never gave a thought to what an archaeological dig would be like, but now I have a very good idea. I'm sure that this book is dated and things have changed by now, but I really felt like I was a part of the time and place Christie and her husband occupied. I'd just love the chance to meet them now!… (more)
LibraryThing member whitreidtan
Have you ever heard what a person did for a living and wondered what it was really like? In this case, it wasn't famed archaeologist Max Mallowan who answers this question but his famous wife, Agatha Christie, the revered mystery writer, who set out to answer the question she often got at dinner parties about what she did on her husband's archaeological expeditions. Who better to write this happily enchanting and engaging memoir of several seasons in Syria excavating promising tells (man made mounds indicating the presence of past settlements), uncovering the mysteries of the past than the Grande Dame of Mystery herself?

Agatha Christie Mallowan was funny. She was observant. She was self-deprecating. And she's eminently readable. Undertaken to explain Christie Mallowan's life and experiences in the Middle East, the memoir, firmly grounded in the pre-WWII time period, was started and then put aside, only being finished at the close of the war, after the world she was chronicling was already slipping into memory. From detailing her preparations to leave England, such things as the necessity of vast quantities of pens and watches and shoes (the latter being Christie Mallowan's desire), the difficulty of finding appropriate clothing in a large enough size, and trying to jam too many books into already over stuffed luggage to the realities of life in the dusty and hot fields, the delicate dance of propitiating the ruling sheikhs, the sometimes seemingly inexplicable conflicts between local workers, the different personalities on the dig, and observing the attitudes towards women in contrast to British attitudes at the time, no detail is too small for Christie Mallowan's pen to capture. She shares crazy and unpredictable adventures as well as the every day domesticity of living in tents and in native homes. She writes of the archaeological practices of the day, some of which probably make modern archaeologists wince, and of the nerve-wracking practice of splitting finds between the country of origin and Britain. Her very real love and affection for the people and the place come through her casual, chatty narrative.

Christie Mallowan is very much a woman of her time in terms of her attitude toward to native people and some of her observations clearly come from a place where she is the vaguely paternalistic "civilized onlooker" as compared to their position of "noble savage." But her own self-deprecation helps to mitigate this for modern readers and most of her observations generally come off with an air of old-fashioned charm. She is, after all, writing about people, both European and Middle Eastern, who no longer exist as they are drawn here. Because of this vanished way of life, disappeared to both the reader and to Christie Mallowan equally, and perhaps because she herself didn't finish writing it until it was gone, there is a real feel of nostalgia for a simpler, bygone era in these pages. But the nostalgia is not the whole story; it's not even the majority of it. The majority is a fascinating look into the growing field of archaeology, the people who practiced it, and one remarkable wife who turned her pen to explaining it in a mostly lighthearted, funny, well-written book. When the reader turns the last page it is with true regret that there is not more time to be spent in the sandy, stifling heat and blinding sun of 1930s Syria in the delightful company of their witty dear friend Agatha Christie Mallowan.
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LibraryThing member cinf0master
In the delightful way that only the British have, Christie weaves a spellbinding tale about desert travel. The hit and miss nature of archeology, the trials of finding servants, the observations on human nature; these all bring readers into the story. Christie writes about individuals in such a way as to make them seam almost too human. Black and white photographs bring the journey home even more.… (more)
LibraryThing member isabelx
He is, fortunately, diverted at this moment by a printed linen frock lying folded in another suitcase. 'What's that?' I reply that it is a dress. 'Interesting', says Max. 'It's got fertility motifs all down the front.' One of the more uncomfortable things about being married to an archaeologist is their expert knowledge of the derivation of the most harmless-looking patterns!

A charming memoir of life on archaeological digs in Syria in the 1930s, in which Agatha Christie comes across as a much more humorous and likeable person than I had expected. I especially enjoyed the poem at the beginning of the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member Helenliz
This is a fun read. Started before WW2 as a means of answering her friends when they asked how she lived when on a dig in the dessert this was finished about 10 years later and is a slightly nostalgic look back at a time and place that was no more. I'm not sure very many of Christie's books give away what a fun character she must have been. She tells all of their adventures, trials and tribulations with a self deprecating air, half the time the joke is on her. The tale of finding a hat was delightful, how many times have we known what we want yet been completely unable to find it. I'm with her on the attraction of one more pair of shoes, despite the doubt of the customs agent! She describes the people she meets with a vaguely paternalistic air, but it isn't too grating on the ear. It has an interested, benevolent air rather than a belittling one. The places she visits are familiar now for very different reasons, they are now no longer recognisable as the busy towns she passes through.
There's little in detail about archeology in here, this is the archeologist's wife describing day to day life and the things that crop up to surprise them. Which she does with great charm and humour.
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LibraryThing member CarltonC
Not so much an archaeological memoir, as a memoir about a time (1930's) and places (Orient Express, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq) that I imagine have changed beyond recognition.
This memoir and travelogue clearly shows the author's happiness at that time, which she conveys so wonderfully in this brief book, so full of love and humour.
There is little about archaeology, it is about the sights, sounds, smells and above all the people that she encountered. I was enchanted.

I read this having previously read "The 8:55 to Baghdad: From London to Iraq on the Trail of Agatha Christie and the Orient Express" by Andrew Eames. This memoir is a far better book, but if you enjoyed it, you will probably find Andrew Eames' attempt to recreate the journeys that Agatha Christie made interesting.
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LibraryThing member ParadisePorch
A nonfictional account of Christie's travels accompanying her second husband Max Mallowan on his archaeological digs in the middle east.

I found it to be a fascinating look at this part of the world before "development" and before Europeans had dug up every last inch of ancient cities. BUT I did find it became a little repetitive about two-thirds of the way through.… (more)
LibraryThing member fred_mouse
lovely. Doesn't make any claims to anything in particular, succeeds nicely. Little snapshots - there are lots of segments that start 'today' which aren't differentiated as being separate days from the previous until one gets to a detail that makes it obvious. Doesn't really give any insight into the way that life was, except possibly (and this is a personal one) for the discussion of the dark-room set up.… (more)
LibraryThing member TomDonaghey
Come, Tell Me How You Live (1946) by Agatha Christie Mallowan. Agatha Christie’s novels feature many deaths and ingenious puzzles, but his one has the bodies of tens of thousands scattered about the place and she and her husband have set out to dig up the truth about some of them.
Unlike her normal writing, this is a nonfiction retelling of her experiences on an archaeological dig in Syria in the late 1930’s. She tells of shopping in London for the proper clothing, setting out on the Orient Express for the Middle East, and the preparations for taking on the immense, several year long, expedition . Her husband, Max Mallowan, was a renowned archeologist and this is a retelling of the hardships and misery, and the hilarity found on the way. They and their crew seek out promising “Tells”, mounds on the landscape that cover ancient civilizations. And Roman ruins just won’t do, they seek the ancients of the area. There is no “Indiana Jones” to be found here, just an adventure that brings out an even better writer in Ms. Christie.
When I read about her having a fever of 102 degrees I immediately worried that she had caught the Covid-19, but I supposed local events have seeped into everything I see and hear.
This is a thrilling answer to all the questions asked her about the adventure (hence the title question) told in a surprising humorous and light-hearted manner. A very good read indeed.
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LibraryThing member stringcat3
Breezy, affectionate memoirs of digging in Syria in the '30s with her husband, Max Mallowan. Christie wrote up her notes about 10 years later, when WW2 was still raging and pleasant memories of that lost world were welcome. Given that there is not a speck of humor in any of her mystery novels, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she could see the funny side of what were often very rough and dirty conditions. She could also poke fun at herself, whether in the preparations for the journey (the clerks steer her toward the "OS" sizes, that is, out-sized) or in some of the strange encounters with the local villagers. Another surprise (to me, at least, who is not really a Christie mystery fan) is that Christie neither drank nor smoked. Shattered my image of her pounding away on a typewriter with a cigarette smoldering in an ashtray next to her and a glass of something on the table.… (more)


Dodd, Mead (1974),176 pages

Original publication date




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