“Often dismissed by pious Muslims as mere folklore, or falsely condemned as foreign influence, or even blankly denied even in the face of overwhelming evidence, the traces of Zarathustra’s teachings refuse to fade away. In spite of everything, Zarathustra lives.”
“In Search of Zarathustra: The First Prophet and the Ideas That Changed the World” by Paul Kriwaczek
While I really wish I could say that my first exposure to the ancient prophet Zarathustra came in the form of Friedrich Nietzsche’s epic ode to the Superman, Also Sprach Zarathustra, I, alas, cannot claim such a thing. My first exposure to the prophet and his religion of Zoroasterism came from this book, Paul Kriwaczek’s traveling exploration In Search of Zarathustra, several years ago in college when I read it for one of my Middle Eastern history classes. I remembered being quite enamored with the book back then, a bright light of interesting writing in a class where most of the material seemed insufferably dry and boring, so I thought it would be a treat to peer into this ancient quest once more for a second reading.
Over the years, it seems that this Zarathustra has lost a bit of its charm for me, though it was definitely interesting reading my previous self’s notes in the margins in preparation for a book report. Starting with the influences found in the present day and working his way backwards, Paul Kriwaczek’s book reads like a travel memoir of sorts, taking us with him on a journey as he explores the origin of Zoroaster and considers how such an ancient man still influences our world today, whether by obvious or much more subtle things. There’s a certain wonder in this journey, especially as he visits far-away villages that practice old traditions, modified and altered through the years to make the transition into modernity. Kriwaczek’s tone is also very tongue-in-cheek, very casual, as if he was telling you these stories over a casual meal at his house. At times, it’s also a little too casual and some of his off-hand comments can be a little shocking or amusing, and, at times, I’m wanting much more about his explorations than before, as if the shiny newness of it has worn off, and it’s time to want to delve deeper.
The thing I love about this book, though, is that it takes one aspect of history (Zarathustra) and explores it through multiple eras. As a history nerd who can never decide on a favorite era, there’s a little bit of everything, from Nietzsche’s inspiration to British colonialism to the pre-Muslin Middle East and the eras of Alexander and Darius. I remember being truly inspired by Kriwaczek’s journey the first time I read it, and, while it seemed a little less magical the second time around, it’s still a fascinating slice of information that puts an interesting cast on things we know in a different way, with Zoroaster’s light shining on it from afar.
Books read: 022/100.