'Get out there' - Books to inspire Travellers
Country Life, December 12/19, 2018
Britain earns more from the export of books and publishes more books per head of population than any other nation. Every year, some 180,000 new titles are produced and, even in the small arena of travel, the UK remains absurdly over-productive. Travel writer and publisher Barnaby Rogerson recommends some new titles.
Alev Scott's Ottoman Odyssey (Quercus; £20) charts a young woman's journey through 11 neighbours of modern Turkey (all old provinces of the once vast Ottoman Empire) and her encounters with the cosmopolitan communities who keep the old, sophisticated Levantine culture alive. The author, whose work is empowered by her mother's Turkish Cypriot identity, has been banned from travelling in the Turkish Republic since the success of her first book, Turkish Awakening (2015).
Sujatha Gidla's Ants Among Elephants (Daunt Books; £10.99) is a family memoir woven around the struggle for Indian Independence. Set against the dark realities of the author's ‘Untouchable' caste, it's full of aspirations for freedom and social revolution. Sujatha Gidla gives us stories that have to be told, fired with compassion, yet without false sentimentality.
From three of our acclaimed writers of place come:
Graham Robb's The Debatable Land (Picador; £20), the result of a six-year quest into the heart of Liddesdale, the bloodiest valley in British history, successively battled over by Celtic tribes, Dark Age kingdoms and Border
Rievers; Adam Thorpe's Notes from the Cevennes (Bloomsbury; £16.99), an affectionate and beautifully evoked examination of France and the French—part rustic, part urban, half memoir and half history—from an Englishman who has lived in the region for over 25 years; and Horatio Clare's In Something Of His Art (Little Toller; £12). Mr Clare is a Welsh-Briton living in the Pennines with an array of talents, from BBC Radio producer to children's author. Here, inspired by the German cult of the walker as explored by Goethe, Herzog, Heine and Seume, he places himself as the imaginative companion to J.S. Bach, who walked to Lubeck in 1705.
Arabia by Levison Wood (Hodder & Stoughton; £25) is another book set to a walking pace. Allowing the author to explore the Arab world and revealing a much more humane and complex world than that offered to us by our disaster-fixated television broadcasts. It could usefully be combined with Lords of the Desert (Simon & Schuster; £20), in which James Barr shines a bright, investigative light on the hidden rivalry between Britain and America in the post-war Middle East and, in the process, unearths a rich gallery of journalists, explorers, oil-prospectors, travel writers and part-time agents, such as Wilfrid Thesiger and the ubiquitous Kim Roosevelt . A similarly rich and fascinating cast populates The Warm South (Yale; £25), Robert Holland's scholarly study of the British infatuation with the heat, light and sensuality of the Mediterranean.
Journeying by Claudio Magris (Yale: £16.99) is a collection of 23 diverse travel pieces written between 1984 and 2004 by the brilliant, playful Italian professor of German at Trieste university, deservedly celebrated for his book Danube. Another powerfully reflective work is the late John Freely's Stamboul Ghosts (Cornucopia; £16.95), featuring the charismatic, Bohemian intellectuals who populated the dark streets of post-war Istanbul. Freely's written portraits are illustrated by photographer Ara Guler, who died in October, making this a doubly posthumous memoir of a city that both men fully inhabited and lovingly observed.
I have long followed the work of a pair of anthropologist-photographers in Africa, the American Carol Beckwith and the Australian Angela Fisher. After 15 jointly-published works and a 15-year gap, they have now produced the stunning African Twilight (Rizzoli; double volume box set £115), a lavish textual and photographic survey of many of the continent's most intriguing indigenous cultures. Jimmy Nelson's Homage to Humanity (Rizzoli; £100) is also visually breath-taking, exploring subsistence communities across the globe, from the Inuit to the Maori. The contrast between the high production standards of both these publications and the materially simple lifestyles of the subjects they depict might seem extreme, but is intentional. The authors are like wedding photographers, presenting highly stylized, romantic images that will surely encourage each new generation to take a rightful pride in the continuation of its cultural traditions.
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by Barnaby Rogerson