Orient Express

I want to follow in the footsteps of John Dos Passos.

A century ago, just as the Ottoman Empire was smoldering and Ataturk was reassembling his Turkish nationalist forces in the East and Constantinople was occupied by French and Italian and American and British soldiers – the victors of WWI – Dos Passos made his way through the charred land, starting in that legendary city. “They are all writing their Turkey books,” Rose Macaulay wrote, and Dos Passos was one of those.


The Black Sea basin, the oldest of lands – before even Mesopotamia – the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates where the tribes still connect with Ham, Shem and Japheth, Noah’s sons. Constantinople, run from the Pera Palace seat of intrigue and assassination. Along the southern coast of the Black Sea through Trebizond and Erzerum and up into Batumi and Tbilisi and around back down through Yerevan into Teheran. Then Dos Passos went back west (when I probably would have gone east). He went down the escarpment into Iraq, I would have marched across the southern Caspian shoreline and into Central Asia, destination Samarkand. Tamerlane. Dos Passos went to Babylon.

All this was 100 years ago almost exactly; and “Orient Express” is a loosely written travel journal about the trip. Some is lovely, some is tragic. Its easy to forget that 100 years ago Europe in the throes of WWI recovery was a rough place – and the Black Sea Basin where the war waged (and still does, 100 years later, though a different war) is always an afterthought of Europe. The curse of geography, a land fought over by the Assyrians and the Hittites and the Medes and the Persians and the Parthians and the Ottomans and the Mongols and the Russians and the Germans and the Armenians – war destroys, leveling cities but the bones, the foundations remain for rebuilding. The Black Sea basin is like that, scrape a trowel into the earth and you will uncover an earlier civilization, an earlier set of stories, an earlier panoply of gods.

I want to follow in the footsteps of John Dos Passos. Though I want to go to Crimea, and then I want to go to Samarkand. To look for the last vestiges of the Nestorians, that great Christian church that once rivaled Rome. And I want to write about it, my own “Turkey book…”

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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