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Citizens of Two Worlds

Citizen of Two Worlds, by Mohammad Ata-Ullah, with a foreword by Lowell Thomas. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960. 285 pages. Price $5.00.

“Under the shadow of this grim mountain, East and West had not only met, but had fused into one.” So writes Dr. Ata-Ullah of The American Alpine Club’s expedition to K2 in 1953. Citizen of Two Worlds likewise fuses into one the experiences in East and West of an adventurous intellectual with fiery energy, who went to K2 in 1953 and 1954 as liaison officer with the American and Italian expeditions. Only 55 pages concern these expeditions, but they reflect intimately the courageous determination and warm humanity of this extraordinary man. His thoughts at the time of the accident to the American party for instance show depths of feeling rarely expressed.

Citizen of Two Worlds beautifully describes Ata-Ullah’s life in India in the country and city, as civilian and officer, in peace and war. We accompany him to England, where he studies medicine, and later see the remarkable responsibilities he had in Iran in wartime when he ran a reception and rehabilitation center for hundreds of thousands of half-dead Polish refugees shipped to Pahlevi from Russia. He worked with both Russians and Americans in Iran and learned from each. We also share his experiences in Azad Kashmir after the Partition of the Subcontinent.

Ata-Ullah writes graphically and he learns from all his experiences. We see him gain technical skills from the West and deep spiritual contentment from the East. Like his father and his wife—the two strongest influences on his life—Ata-Ullah is a very religious man, one whose approach is intelligent, rational and yet deeply mystical. To him, a devout Muslim, the parts of Jerusalem, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, were all “of equal sanctity” and he tells of wandering through the streets of the holy city, “my soul aflame with the thought of the great happenings in this town that had so powerfully shaped the spiritual destinies of mankind.” He is a man of courage and action, a man who understands Western accomplishments and Eastern attitudes, but above all a man with a soul. Although his is not primarily a mountaineering book, the author sees mountaineering as an example of man’s divine destiny, his ceaseless urge to probe himself and his surroundings. Through such struggles, spiritual and physical, East and West can share our “inborn instincts” to “wander, seek and discover.” Here East and West can “not only meet but fuse.”

Robert H. Bates