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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

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
By Laurie Lee. Drawings by Leonard Rosoman. Atheneum, 1969, 248 pp.

The opening of this wonderful book reminded me of one of those fairy tales where the youngest son sets out with his small bundle of possessions to seek his fortune in the world. Laurie Lee was just 19 when he left his small village in Gloucestershire to see the world, and among his few possessions—which included a tent, a blanket, a change of clothes, and a tin of treacle biscuits—was a violin, which he planned to play to earn his living. Like those storybook figures, he was very young, and everything lay before him. As he says, recapturing the wonder many years later, “Everything I saw was new.”

As you would expect of an English youth, Lee heads for London, though his main destination is Southampton, to see the sea. But after working at a buildings job for a year, his journey takes him to Spain, where he trudges through hot fields, wanders into strange villages, takes in cities—Madrid, Toledo, Seville—and at last, wintering in tiny Castillo, finds himself amidst the beginnings of the Spanish civil war.

For Lee, all of this starts out as a youthful adventure, free of obligations. “There was really no hurry,” he says. “I was going nowhere. Nowhere at all but here…Never in my life had I felt so fat with time, so free of the need to be moving or doing.”
But everywhere, he observes the poverty, the inequality, the squalor forced upon the Spaniards, who take care of him with warmth and generosity. Although it is only when he returns to England that he comes to see what the battle he had accidentally happened upon was about, it is this awakening he experiences while traveling that draws him back to fight for the Spanish people’s cause.

This is an exquisitely written book. As I’ve noted in past reviews, I often find imagistic description off-putting: overdone, as it too frequently is, such writing seems to draw attention to the author’s skill with words rather than to what is being described. Not here. The images are so precise, so fitting, that they bring scenes and people to life, and they are also delightful in themselves. Experienced in the 1930s, published in 1969, As I Went Out One Midsummer Morning remains fully alive today.

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