Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens

I read this book by Jack Weatherford a while back as part of my preparations for an upcoming trip to Outer Mongolia (more about that anon). It's an amazing if at times horrific tale, i.e. what happened to the subsequent generations of women after they lost power. But Genghis Khan's love and respect for his daughters is astonishing to read - he put them in charge of all of his territories while he kept his sons by his side for battle - not least because we are not told this by other writers in the field. You would think there were no Mongolian women, never mind Mongolian queens, if you go by John Man's version of Mongolian history in his supposedly definitive Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection. Sadly and annoyingly, Man [have to laugh at the symbolic name] is simply carrying on the male tradition of excluding women from historical records. Weatherford describes in his interview how large chunks of The Secret Life of the Mongols - the 13th century record of Genghis Khan's life - were removed by later Chinese historians, those chunks being specifically about Genghis Khan's daughters and how he honoured them. The other thing I love about this interview is the author himself. What a lovely man - intelligent, erudite, humble, respectful of the Mongolian people and their language, culture, and history, and so indignant on behalf of the women who have been cut. And it's a great read, by the way, as exciting as a novel though harrowing at times.

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