Come, Tell Me How You Live* by Agatha Christie Mallowan (1946)
A chronicle of her experiences during two seasons of an archeological expedition in Syria in the years before World War II, Come, Tell Me How You Live was Agatha Christie's solo venture into autobiography until she published An Autobiography in 1984. Unlike her fiction, this book has no solid structure and rambles along like a fireside story and, like a fireside story, it contains warmth, humor, and insight into the narrator.
Christie's second husband was the reknowned archeologist Max Mallowan. She joined him late in 1934 (the book hints a later year) in a search for prehistoric artifacts. Here, Max considers ancient Romans the enemies because they left so many artifacts that sully the sites with their clutter, making it difficult to find the earlier native artifacts that he is seeking. Max comes across as an absent-minded professor, oblivious to any discomforts and chortling gleefully at the thought of finding hidden artifacts. Max, of course, speaks Arabic; Christie, of course, does not. Max is a calm hand who understands the native workers and able to assuage them when needed. For Christie, the native mind is alien -- their priorities and their attitudes were not British!
Christie lovingly (and somewhat self-deprecatingly) describes how she came to appreciate the people and the land. From references to her stoutness to her attempt to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol and through her minor misadventures, Christie displays her wit more evenly here than she does in her mysteries. This is Agatha's story -- not Max's, not the expedition's -- and she tells it well.
Reading the book today, one cannot help but compare the attudes, mores, and customs of the mid-Thirties with those of today and question whether some of the stereotypes we now hold are valid.
An entertaining and fascination book. An absolute pleasure.
*There is some question about the comma in the title. The dust jacket on the first edition omits it but Christie's official web site includes it. Who am I to argue with an official website?