Under African SunBy Marianne Alverson. University of Chicago Press, 1987, 233 pp.
In 1972, Alverson went to live in Botswana with her anthropologist husband, Hoyt, and their two young sons. Unlike most expatriates in the region, the family lived on the lands, in the homestead of the village elder Rre Segalthe, who adopted them. Alverson, who learned the Setswana language, immersed herself in the lives of her neighbors, adapting to their customs and in time starting a school. Her memoir is perceptive, entertaining, and so rich in detail that I too found myself immersed in the community and in the author's moving experience. Read More
TraveLit--A blog about travel literature.
Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.
Under African SunBy Marianne Alverson. University of Chicago Press, 1987, 233 pp.
Travels with Epicurus:
A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life
By Daniel Klein. Penguin, 2012, 164 pp.
In his early seventies, faced with the prospect of devoting an entire year to major dental surgery, Daniel Klein decided it was time to deal with the realities—and conceptions—of old age. Questioning what he calls the “forever young” movement prevalent in America—where the elderly keep striving for new goals and submitting to cosmetic surgery—he determined to find a better philosophy.
Having spent time previously on the Greek island of Hydra, where he found the elderly “uncommonly content with their stage of life,” he thought this was the place to find some answers. Packing up a load of philosophy books, he set off on his quest.
In Travels with Epicurus, Klein takes us on his philosophical journey. Read More
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. Read More
By Stefan Zweig. Translated and with an Introduction by Will Stone. First published 1902-1940. Modern Voices, Hesperus, 2011, 109 pp.
“Stations and ports, these are my passion,” writes Stefan Zweig. “For hours I can stand there awaiting a fresh wave of travellers and goods noisily crashing in to cover the preceding one…Each station is different, each distils another distant land; every port, every ship brings a different cargo.”
Best known for his fiction and biographies, Zweig also wrote extensively about travel, which, observes Will Stone in his fine introduction to this book, was not merely important to the Austrian writer, but central to his being, “the fulcrum of his entire adult life.” This selection of his essays, arranged chronologically, moves from 1902, when the young author travels to immerse himself in the larger European literary and intellectual world, through the 20s, when he travels through a land recovering from the decimation of WWI, to 1940, and the onset of WWII. Read More
To a Mountain in Tibet
By Colin Thubron. HarperCollins, 2011, 227 pp.
Mt. Kailas, in Tibet, says Colin Thubron is “the most sacred of the world’s mountains—holy to one fifth of the earth’s people.” To believers, “the earthly Kailas is a ladder between light and darkness—its foundations are in hell—and a site of redemptive power.” Indeed, to Hindus, “‘departure for Kailas’ is a metaphor for death.”
Death is very much on the author’s mind as he makes his way through Nepal to join the many pilgrims who will circumambulate the mountain. Not long ago, his mother died, and he is now the last of his family; he lost his father earlier, and his sister was killed years ago, at 21,in an avalanche in the mountains of Switzerland. He is going to Mt. Kailas to mark their passage. He is also going because he is a traveler: travel is his profession, it is what he does. Read More
“Sometimes journeys begin long before their first step is taken.”
The Last Grain Race
By Eric Newby. First published 1956. William Collins, 2014, 235 pp.
The Last Grain Race was Eric Newby’s first book, but it already has the essence of the travel works that would follow: the challenging journey, the wonderfully precise writing, the self-deprecating modesty, and, perhaps above all, the humor. In 1938, at the age of 18, fed up with his London job at an advertising agency and inspired by a friend’s eccentric father—who he is convinced was a member of the British Secret Service—he signed up as an apprentice on the Moshulu, a four-masted barque headed for Australia.
The Finnish-owned Moshulu, which left from Belfast, was one of the sailing ships that would pick up grain in Australia to carry back to Europe, and the return journey really was a race. In 1939, thirteen ships participated, including the Moshulu. As Newby says, although he didn’t know it at the time, this was to be the ship’s last voyage in the grain trade, and it was also to be the last of the races. His book not only records his own grueling if colorful experience, it takes us back to an era long gone. Read More
Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide
By Peter Allison. Lyons Press, 2007, 2014. 272 pp.
The contemporary African safari is a fascinating mix of the natural and the artificial, the wild and the touristic. Peter Allison captures these contradictions in Whatever You Do, Don’t Run, the first of several books he has written about his adventures as a safari guide.
Allison would not have seemed a likely candidate for a guide when he arrived in Africa from Sydney, Australia, at the age of 19. He was not especially athletic—indeed, he describes himself as uncoordinated. He didn’t know how to drive. But he fell in love with the animals and the land, and undertook the serious training necessary, learning about the wildlife, the plants, the insects, and the terrain. Read More
Arctic Adventure: My Life in the Frozen North
By Peter Freuchen. Introduction by Gretel Ehrlich. Echo Point Books and Media. 400 pp.
Arctic Adventure isn’t strictly a travel book. But then travel itself isn’t a strictly defined category—it so often bleeds into memoir, autobiography, history. Freuchen’s book is all of these and ethnography as well. In 1910 he left his native Denmark to set up a trading post in north Greenland with the explorer Knud Rasmussen, and over the next 14 years he settled among the Inuit, married an Inuit woman, Navarana, and started a family. Arctic Adventure draws a vibrant portrait of the Inuit, whose fascinating culture is so different from ours in the West.
Of course, as its title suggests, the book recounts adventures as well. Inevitably, it is filled with hair-raising tales of survival—this is the Arctic, after all, and Freuchen is an explorer. “Traveling along an unknown coast,” he writes, “not knowing what or whom to expect next, is the most exciting experience in the world.” He and Rasmussen cross the Greenland ice cap by dog sledge, a feat that had not been accomplished on such a difficult route before. On one journey, he and his companions are caught by the ice breaking up all around them, and toward the end of his stay he—with a badly injured leg—and a young man just manage to make it on a trek through heavy clay. Exhaustion and near-starvation on these journeys are the norm.
Nevertheless, Read More