The Secret History of the Mongols. Arthur Waley. Allen & Unwin, 32s.
The centre-piece of this book is a translation of an account, written exclusively for Mongols by Mongols, of the rise of Genghiz Khan. Genghiz Khan was over fifty before he became the leader of the Mongol confederacy and embarked on his foreign conquests. His youth was spent in clan infighting and inter-tribal war; eventually he outorganized, outbetrayed and outmassacred all his rivals. Waley’s translation covers the only story of these early years. Genghiz Khan’s radical social reorganization of the Mongols comes out only dimly through the narratives but it evokes in cruel detail the grim quality of Mongol life. The rest of the book is a miscellany of Chinese ghost-stories, folksongs, chit-chat and other scholarly jottings. There is an interesting description of Lo-Yang, the 4th-century capital of China, a city of over half a million inhabitants, which fell to the Huns a hundred years before Rome fell to the Goths. But many of the pieces are very trivial indeed.