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TraveLit--A blog about travel literature. 

     Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.

Book Review

Three Rivers of France: Dordogne-Lot-Tarn
By Freda White. Photographs and Commentary by Michael Busselle. First published in 1952. Revised in 1962, 1972. Arcade, 1989, 207 pp.

Traveling in Southwest France in 1987, the photographer Michael Busselle took along Freda White’s Three Rivers of France, by then reissued twice since its first publication in 1952 and considered, he says, “the definitive book on the subject.” Struck by how “useful” the work remained after more than 30 years, he conceived the idea of retracing White’s journey and photographing the places she described. The book that emerged is superb, combining White’s erudite yet entertaining text with Busselle’s beautiful photos of one of the most beautiful regions of France.

White’s three rivers are the Dordogne, the Lot, and the Tarn, each imbued with a distinctive character, which she explores. “The Dordogne is a romantic river,” she writes. “The Lot is a magical river. The Tarn is a breath-taking river.” As she travels through the surrounding area, there is nothing she doesn’t touch upon: the geography, the violent history, the national culture, the ancient architecture and painted caves, the economy, food, and wildlife.

White takes her time. “This is preeminently dawdler’s country,” she writes of the Middle Dordogne, and everywhere, she pays close attention to detail. Immersing readers in the region, she conveys the essence of the place. Interspersing her information with anecdotes both historical and personal, she creates a narrative that, however knowledgeable, feels conversational.

And the photographs! The chateaux, the castles, the stone cottages. The causses, the farms, the medieval towns. The rivers, in all weather and seasons. Rereading my copy of this book, somewhat battered from use, the photographs took me straight back: to Conques, to Cordes, to Rocamadour, and to the spectacular gorges of the Tarn.

In the 1989 edition of Three Rivers, Busselle updated White’s text, noting changes to particular places and appending “A Guide for the Modern Traveller,” with information about routes and hotels. By now of course this too will no longer be current. But if, for practical matters, the traveler will need a newer guide, for a deep appreciation of this region, none will prove more useful than White's grand tour.

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