Searching for Conrad in Southeast Asia with Gavin Young

“My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see. That—and no more, and it is everything.”   Joseph Conrad, Preface to The Nigger of The Narcissus

The life and work of Joseph Conrad, it seems, was a huge influence on Gavin Young. 

 If the quote above inspired Gavin Young’s journalism and writing, the following quote from Conrad’s short story, Youth inspired Young’s desire to live, travel and to see the world:

I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more – the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort – to death; the triumphant conviction of strength, the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires, too soon, too soon – before life itself.

At the outset of In Search of Conrad, Young recalls that passage being read aloud to him during his school days and being intoxicated by this stirring summons “to wake up and start living”.  Gavin Young did just that.

After a period of national service following the Second World War, Young started working for a firm of ship brokers in Iraq.  It was while he was there that he met explorer Wilfred Thesiger, with whose encouragement he visited Iraq’s Marsh Arabs and subsequently spent two years living with them.  In a letter to his mother Thesiger commented: 

Gavin Young who works with a firm in Basra and is keen to see something of Arab tribal life has been with me for a week … He is a nice lad and I am always glad to help anyone who is keen on this sort of life.

An encounter with Wilfred Thesiger was not the only thing Young had in common with Eric Newby, another famous post-war travel writer.  

Young was steered towards journalism by Ian Fleming when they met in a bar in Tangiers in the 1950s. Turning down an offer from Fleming to join The Sunday Times, Young joined the Observer at the end of the 1950s, as had Newby and spent the next 30 years covering wars and revolutions in Angola, Nagaland, Cambodia, Iran and Yemen as well as enjoying spells as the newspaper’s correspondent in New York and Paris.

More than 20 years later when he was in his fifties, Young returned to the Marsh Arabs in Iraq and wrote what was to become his first travel book Return to the Marshes: Life with the Marsh Arabs of Iraq.  

His subsequent travel books, Slow Boats to China (a journey by 23 vessels from Greece to China) and Slow Boats Home (his return to England by boat via the South Seas, Cape Horn and West Africa) were better received but is was with In Search of Conrad that Young was, in 1991, awarded the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award (later becoming the Dolman Best Travel Book Award and then the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year).

As its title suggests, In Search of Conrad is a literary pilgrimage.  In this engrossing book, Young talks of his lifelong obsession with Conrad’s books and his literary quest to seek out the world and characters which inhabit Conrad’s novels Almayer’s Folly and Lord Jim; the men who:

have tinged with romance the region of shallow waters and forest-clad islands that life far east and still mysterious between the deep waters of two oceans.      

Young explains how Conrad was a reader first (“I don’t know what would have become of me if I had not been [a reading boy]”), before he became a traveller and seaman and then settled in England after 20 years at sea to pour his experiences into his writing.  

Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say, ‘When I grow up I will go there.  Marlow in The Heart of Darkness

He follows Conrad’s journeys to the East in search of the places he visited and looking for clues about the stories and adventurers who inspired both characters and plots in his novels. 

Young’s quest takes him on journeys across the Java Sea, through the Gulf of Siam, and to the Makassar Straits visiting Bangka, Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), Celebes (now Sulawesi), Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.  It is a fascinating journey not only for its literary investigation but for the places Young visits including some still remote places which only now, through the advent of budget airlines in Southeast Asia, are becoming more accessible to travellers.     

Young’s own enthusiasm for Conrad’s books, history and travel is infectious and it was easy to feel drawn into his quest.  Relying on Norman Sherry’s (Graham green’s biographer) as well as his own investigations Young brings enigmatic characters from Conrad’s novel into sharper focus with biographical detail and historical description of 19th century life in Southeast Asia.

Young effortlessly blends his own travelogue and descriptions of the East with Conrad’s own, slipping between Conrad’s time and his own.  Pre-empting any charge of plagiarism, Young calls it a collaboration.  It is effective and lends parts of the book a dreamlike quality.    

For readers who have been inspired to visit places to experience what they have read on the page, or for anyone with an interest in less visited places Southeast Asia, this is an excellent read.     

Young’s other books include Worlds Apart, a collection of essays and journalism, From Sea to Shining Sea, about America, A Wavering Grace, about Vietnam and Beyond Lion Rock, the story of Cathay Pacific Airways. Gavin Young died in 2001.  

Read more about Gavin Young’s life and career on Faber & Faber’s blog or in the obituaries from The Observer and The Telegraph.

    

 

Book: RL Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes

Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes

by Robert Louis Stevenson (1879)

But we are all travellers in what John Bunyan calls the wilderness of this world—all, too, travellers with a donkey: and the best that we find in our travels is an honest friend. He is a fortunate voyager who finds many. We travel, indeed, to find them. They are the end and the reward of life. They keep us worthy of ourselves; and when we are alone, we are only nearer to the absent.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s account of his journey through the Cevennes is a classic travelogue.

Undertaken in 1878 when Stevenson was a young man and before he had found fame as a writer, Travels was published in 1879 and was one of Stevenson’s first published works.

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The journey itself was a 12 day, 120 mile, self-supported hike through tough, sparsely populated terrain in an area of south-central France that had seen a protestant uprising during the reign of Louis XIV.

An often remarked feature of the journey is Stevenson’s love for occasionally sleeping out of doors, preferring to use a bespoke sack, rather than using a tent or finding an inn.

A tent, above all for a solitary traveller, is troublesome to pitch, and troublesome to strike again…A sleeping-sack, on the other hand…does not advertise your intention of camping out to every curious passer-by. This is a huge point. If a camp is not secret, it is but a troubled resting-place.

From his description, what he refers to as a sleeping-sack sounds like a setup akin to a bivvy bag and improvised basha.

I decided on a sleeping-sack….and….in case of heavy rain I proposed to make myself a little tent, or tentlet, with my waterproof coat, three stones, and a bent branch.

With his love for informal and makeshift outdoor sleeping, Stevenson would have a great deal in common with modern day adventurers Alastair Humphreys and Anna McNuff.

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Stevenson writes evocatively about being outdoors at night, sitting smoking and drinking brandy (these two items seem to have sustained him on his journey) while looking at the silhouettes of trees around him, appreciating the silence and beauty of the night sky.

I…sat upright to make a cigarette. The stars were clear, coloured, and jewel-like, but not frosty. A faint silvery vapour stood for the Milky Way. All around me the black fir-points stood upright and stock-still…I lay lazily smoking and studying the colour of the sky, as we call the void of space, from where it showed a reddish grey behind the pines to where it showed a glossy blue-black between the stars.

Communing with nature and being self sufficient is a large part of Stevenson’s quest in Travels.

He writes about his yearning for pure adventure and the thrill of waking and finding himself in completely unfamiliar surroundings.

He has no high purpose beyond that of travelling “for travel’s sake”, “to move”“to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly” and “come down off this feather-bed of civilisation.”

He yearns to be ‘in the moment’, an “exacting present” that occupies and composes the mind and he delights in travel’s non-conformity, feeling “independent of material aids”, and thinking that he had “rediscovered one of those truths which are revealed to savages and hid from political economists.”

Unable to carry his heavy sleeping sack and equipment, Stevenson purchases himself a donkey at the start of his journey.

It is through his relationship with the donkey, Modestine, that Stevenson highlights the second theme of Travels.

From the preface and throughout, Stevenson continually returns to notions of friendship and companionship. This creates a tension with his desire for occasional solitude rather than a “close and noisy ale-house”, although ultimately he reconciles them.

He writes of the “partial intimacies” formed when travelling and enjoys the easy camaraderie of travelling, setting the world to rights with strangers, meeting Trappist monks or expressing his “hearty admiration” to the waitress Clarisse which she took “like milk, without embarrassment or wonder.”

As is also true for many travellers, Stevenson found that the parting of company was accompanied by a mixture of regret and glee as the traveller “shakes off the dust of one stage before hurrying forth upon another.”

If he doesn’t quite anthropomorphise Modestine, he gives her real personality and humanises their relationship when he writes of the agony he feels at causing her pain, her virtues, faults and the loss he feels when they part company which it is difficult not to share.

A charming and personal travelogue, Travels is an absorbing, short read containing a great deal for modern travellers to identify with.

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It is still possible to follow Stevenson’s route and a small tourist industry has grown up around visitors who want to retrace his steps along what is now walking route GR70, either with or without a donkey.

Examples of writers who have done so are here and here.

Travels with a Donkey is available as a free ebook from the Internet Archive and also Project Gutenburg

Article: Road tripping, female adventurers & travel writing

Why is it that road trips, when undertaken by men in literature, seem to be about expanding one’s life and its context, about seeing the bigger world and how the man fits into it, and yet when undertaken by women, are most often in flight from dangerous situations, and seldom, if ever, for pure adventure?

Great article by Bernadette Murphy in Literary Hub examining female role models in road trip literature. 

Murphy recognises that books can provide role models to help us understand our own choices and motivations but, when planning her own road trip, wondered at the relative lack of female literary road trip role models. 

Riding a motorcycle for hours on end, days at a time will disorient you in a way that opens up new vistas. That’s what I was counting on.

In the course of the article, Murphy provides a good list of adventurous female authors who took to the road and wrote about their experiences. The comments section at the end of the article provides a few more suggestions.

Murphy has added to the list of female adventurer/writers with an account of her own 5,000 mile bike trip, Harley and Me.

That trip dilated my perception of myself, of this country, of my place in the world. In a very real and sometimes brutal way, the experience of being out in the elements day after day, enduring long and arduous miles along the nation’s roads took me apart, piece by piece—and then rebuilt me.

In addition to the titles by female authors that Murphy recommends there are, of course, others by female authors that celebrate travel and adventure.  

As well as famous examples like Gertrude Bell, Dervla Murphy and Freya Stark, there are also Emily Hahn, who wrote about driving across the US and some of her many other travels in the memoir No Hurry to Get Home, Edith Wharton’s A Motor-Flight Through France and In Morocco, the aptly named Aloha Wanderwell Baker who drove around the world in the 1920s and also Ella Maillart who, as well as keeping pace with Peter Fleming in Forbidden Journey, wrote about her road trip from Geneva to Kabul with Annemarie Schwarzenbach in The Cruel Way.   More recent examples include Robyn Davidson and Kira Salak. 

Murphy has a good point about women being underrepresented in travel literature in proportion to the journeys they have made when compared to their male counterparts.  

Even when they make the same journeys, the female perspective can be overshadowed by the male.  The Maillart/Fleming journey provides one example and Barbara Greene’s account of her African journey with her more famous cousin, Graham, another.  Many have heard of Graham Greene’s Journey Without Maps, but Barbara Greene’s excellent Too Late to Turn Back is less well known.

However, that ought not to detract from the many fine travel narratives written by adventurous females who have undertaken journeys many others would not dare and continue to inspire those with sufficiently adventurous spirits to follow in their tracks. 

What other female travel writers would you recommend?

Book: Edith Wharton in Morocco

In Morocco
by Edith Wharton

Overripeness is…the characteristic of this rich and stagnant civilization. Buildings, people, customs, seem all about to crumble and fall of their own weight: the present is a perpetually prolonged past.  To touch the past with one’s hands is realized only in dreams; and in Morocco the dream-feeling envelops one at every step.

Edith Wharton, novelist and friend of author Henry James, came late to her writing career but was a traveller from an early age, prompting her to comment in later life “perhaps, after all, it is not a bad thing to begin one’s travels at four.”

Wharton was born into a wealthy family in 1862.  Following the American Civil War, her family moved to Europe, travelling between France, Spain and Italy before returning to New York when the Franco-Prussian war broke out.  

Wharton later married a wealthy Boston banker in 1885 with whom she travelled around Europe for several months each year.  At the end of the 19th century, the Whartons’ travels focused on Italy but switched to France in the early part of the 20th century.  Their travels included a four-month yacht cruise on the Aegean in 1888 which Wharton wrote about in The Cruise of the Vanadis.  

It was only in her 40s that Wharton turned seriously to writing after the publication of her first successful novel The House of Mirth.  In addition to fiction, Wharton wrote seven travel books. After her separation and divorce, Wharton moved to France where lived until her death in 1937.   

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In her introduction to Edith Wharton Abroad, a collection of Wharton’s travel writing, Sarah Bird Wright notes that Wharton’s travel writing is shaped not only by her extensive reading and learning but also a “dislike of architectural restoration” and a “preference for “parentheses” of travel instead of the “catalogued riches of guidebooks””. She also observes that, like William Dean Howells, Wharton was a traveller before she was a writer.    

Relatively late in her travelling career, in 1917 and while Europe was still engulfed by the First World War, Edith Wharton toured Morocco by car at a pivotal moment in that country’s history:

the brief moment of transition between its virtually complete subjection to European authority, and the fast approaching hour when it is thrown open to all the banalities and promiscuities of modern travel.

Overshadowing In Morocco is the sense that Wharton is glimpsing a country that is changing and disappearing.  Wharton sees that a combination of French improvement to Morocco’s railways and roads together with the resumption of normal Mediterranean passenger traffic after the war will open Morocco up to “the great torrent of ‘tourism'” and all the “banalities and promiscuities of modern travel”.

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Starting her journey in Tangier, Wharton is keen to get away from the familiar “dog-eared world of travel” she finds there and instead immerse herself in the souks and harems of old Morocco.

Wharton visits Rabat and Sale, Volubilis (the only sizeable Roman ruins so far discovered in Morocco) and also Meknes, where she recalls the reign of Sultan Moulay-Ismael whose architectural achievements are overshadowed by his use of slaves in their construction among whom were Christians captured by Barbary pirates.

Wharton moves on to “many-walled Fez” where she vividly describes the descent through its souk to the tomb of the city’s founder, Moulay-Idriss and the Almohad mosque of El Kairouiyin.  

Wharton describes the markets and souks of Fez and Marrakech and also the Djemaa el- Fna with its storytellers, snake-charmers and dancers, concluding that there “can be no more Oriental sight this side of the Atlas and the Sahara.” 

Wharton also describes visits to Moulay Idriss, where she witnesses a blood rite dance, as well as the Saadian tombs in Marrakech, both places firmly on modern travellers’ itineraries but to which foreigners then had only recently been permitted access. 

Wharton portrays Morocco as a country of constant change, instability and even as a shifting concept.  She describes the flows of Almoravid, Almohad, Saadian, Merinid or Hassanian invaders as they wash across the country, each leaving their mark on Morocco’s architecture and history.  

With shifts in power Wharton notes the shifting borders or areas of control, in a region bounded by the Giralda tower in Seville to the Koutoubya tower in Marrakech and beyond the desert to interior Africa.  

Wharton also describes the abandoned and decaying buildings which, made of plaster and rubble, “do not die in beauty like the firm stones of Rome”

Everywhere behind the bristling walls and rock-clamped towers of old Morocco lurks the shadowy spirit of instability. Every new Sultan builds himself a new house and lets his predecessors’ palaces fall into decay; and as with the Sultan so with his vassals and officials. Change is the rule in this apparently unchanged civilization, where “nought may abide but Mutability.

Wharton clearly views the French and, in particular, General Lyautey’s governorship of Morocco as enlightened and perhaps, underlining a departure from the past, as permanent and stable.  In one sense then, although the French represent another wave of invaders to have crossed the desert and administer Morocco, their coming marks a change from the normal pattern and the arrival of modernity. 

No more will the invading or controlling power knock down and rebuild.  No more will Morocco’s old buildings fall into ruin.  New buildings are to be constructed outside of the old towns and Wharton praises the “incessant efforts of General Lyautey’s administration to preserve the old monuments of Morocco from injury, and her native arts and industries from the corruption of European bad taste.”  

Conscious that she is visiting a guidebook-less country, Wharton adds to her personal impressions, outlines of the country’s history and architecture.  Modestly, she claims that the chief merit of these outlines is their absence of originality, having drawn their content from other works that she lists.  She also devotes a chapter to describing her experiences of harems in Rabat, Fez and Marrakech. 

Although, in her original preface of 1919, Wharton expresses concern at the prospect of increased tourism to Morocco, in the preface to a new edition in 1927, Wharton is pleased to note that Morocco has retained “nearly all the magic and mystery of forbidden days”, despite its popularity as a destination and the improvements to its accessibility and its conveniences, concluding that: 

To visit Morocco is still like turning the pages of some illuminated Persian manuscript all embroidered with bright shapes and subtle lines.”  

Some of Wharton’s other travel books (some of which are available to download for free and legally at The Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg) are: 

 

Article: The history of Peru in 10 objects

Thomson belongs to a rare species of explorer.  He is a writer who explores and not an explorer who writes.  And it is Thomson’s extreme humility in the face of both danger and extraordinary success that places him in the same tradition as Eric Newby. (Geographical Magazine)

I normally give any article with a number in its title (“5 reasons why you must…”), a wide berth.

When it’s written by Hugh Thomson, though, I will happily make an exception especially when it seems to be in the same vein as the BBC and British Museum’s excellent podcast series A History of the World in 100 Objects.

When I first started coming to Peru 35 years ago, it’s fair to say it was not for the museums.

I spotted Thomson’s article, The history of ancient Peru in ten objects, on a recent flight back from Madrid in British Airway’s Highlife magazine.

In this short piece Thomson, describes how Peru has significantly upped its game in terms of museums showcasing its pre-Hispanic history.   

Using a variety of objects, he highlights that there is much more to Peruvian history than the Incas, including the Chimú and Moche cultures, 4,000-year-old pyramids as large as those at Giza and tombs yielding treasures rivalling those of Tutankhamun. 

Encompassing pottery, gold, jewellery, coca, pyramids,  Inca messengers, funerary masks and, of course, llamas, Thomson’s article is an inspiration for exploring some of the lesser-known historical sights in Peru. 

Thomson is a writer/explorer and film-maker who has devoted a large portion of his life to understanding and exploring Inca and pre-Columbian civilisations in the Andes.  These have included expeditions to locate Inca ruins as well as making new discoveries at known sites.

He has also written two books about his travels in Peru and the Andes: Cochineal Red and The White Rock, books I came across following an extended trip to South America.  Thomson is an author, like John Hemming, who I instantly associate with South America and the Andes. 

      

 

 

 

 

Find out more about Hugh Thomson on his website www.thewhiterock.co.uk which contains a blog and information about Thomson’s other books and film projects (one of which was the recent and fascinating BBC series, Treasures of the Indus).

If Hugh Thomson’s books appeal, these are also worth a look:

     

 

Article: Freya Stark on real vs bogus travel

Above all is enjoyment with no utilitarian objective, which it is the main business of both travel and education to increase as they can.

Freya Stark is celebrated as one of the most outstanding travellers and travel writers of the 20th century.

Born in Paris at the end of the 19th century, Stark volunteered during the First World War and began her adventurous solo travels in her 30s.  

By 1931 she had made three journeys into Iran, parts of which had never been visited by Westerners.  Stark was awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s Back Award in 1933 for those explorations which were also published in 1934 as The Valleys of the Assassins.  

Stark continued her travels during the 1930s and after the Second World War, chiefly around the Middle East, Turkey and Afghanistan.   

The text of this particular essay by Stark does not appear online but is a chapter in her collection of philosophical essays, Perseus in the Wind, published just after the Second World War in 1948. 

In the essay Stark describes the importance of travel which, for her, was comparable to the ecstasy of love, although travel was “less costly and almost equally precious in the end.”  For Stark, though, travel surpassed love in one respect:

And there is this about love: that its memory is not enough; for the soul retracts if it does not go on loving, whereas to have travelled once, however long ago – provided it was real and not bogus travel – is enough.
The secret of travel was to have experienced it and “have it behind you.”  If one had travelled well, those experiences were enough and could provide a store to draw upon in later life:
 
Good days are to be gathered like sunshine in grapes, to be trodden and bottled into wine and kept for age to sip at ease beside his fire. If the traveller has vintaged well he need trouble to wander no longer; the ruby moments glow in his glass at will. He can still feel the spring in his step, and the wind on his face, though he sit in shelter: unless perhaps the sight of a long road winding, or the singing of the telegraph wires, or the wild duck in their wedges, or horses’ hooves that clatter into distance, or the wayside stream – all with their many voices persuade him to try just one more journey before the pleasant world comes to an end.

That is not say to say that travel is something to be acquired or possessed like a souvenir.  What matters is how one travels, to ensure it is real and not bogus; and to make travel real, one must have a genuine horizon:  

There is no travelling without a horizon. This is, if you come to think of it, just what the bogus traveller lacks. He has made himself a world without a skyline. His rooms are booked in Paris, Cairo, Melbourne San Francisco, New York his routes are planned his days are scheduled: he has blotted out, with every touch of his organization, that blue rim that stands between the known world and the unknown For the rest, the chief thing the traveller carries about with him is himself. The places he visits are incidental. 

Real, as opposed to bogus, travel does not require us to pack up and head off into the deserts and jungles.  

Although Stark considered that every good journey ought to contain “some measure of exploration”, she considered that a short trip, some effort of our own and a little imagination were sufficient, provided the traveller maintained awareness of their horizon beyond which the “world is new.” 

Travelling was therefore as much a state of mind as it was a physical and geographical challenge and, despite being an intrepid explorer, this thought led Stark to wonder whether some of “the fairest journeys have been made by those who never left their houses.”  

Despite this, there is no substitute for the real experience of travel and it was through travel that Stark thought people of different races and cultures might reach a common understanding, in spite of those differences:

Travel is necessary to an understanding of men…Such delicate goods as justice, love and honour, courtesy, and indeed all the things we care for, are valid everywhere; but they are variously moulded and often differently handled, and sometimes nearly unrecognizable if you meet them in a foreign land; and the art of learning fundamental common values is perhaps the greatest gain of travel to those who wish to live at ease among their fellows.

A number of Freya Stark’s travel books are available to download for free from the Internet Archive, here.  Unfortunately, Perseus in the Wind is not among them which is still in print and available at Amazon and elsewhere. 

 

Interview: Paul Theroux on Travelling

What draws me in is that a trip is a leap in the dark. It’s like a metaphor for life. You set off from home, and in the classic travel book you go to an unknown place. You discover a different world, and you discover yourself. The traveller is an ancient figure – a stand-in for mankind – finding his or her way. Ideally, in a travel book the traveller is alone.

Interview with Paul Theroux as part of The Browser‘s FiveBooks series, also published in Salon in 2012.

Paul Theroux discusses his early life in Malawi and Africa, how travelling gives a perspective on home countries and what it means to travel alone properly and how that intensifies the personal response to a physical journey.

He explains why he chooses not to read travel literature and how he chooses what books to take on a  journey, revealing views similar to Graham Greene:

What books to take on a journey? It is an interesting – and important – problem. In West Africa once I had made the mistake of taking the Anatomy of Melancholy, with the idea that it would, as it were, match the mood. It matched all right, but what one really needs is contrast (The Lawless Roads)

Setting out his five book choices, Paul Theroux explains how each of them helped make him want to write a book himself, how we are drawn to stories about stories about suffering and people being tested and how the length of time a writer spends in a place can affect how they respond to and write about it.

Theroux gives an insight into the difficulty of treating travel writing as a strictly non-fiction literary form.  He highlights that three of his five choices are novelists (“a novelist should be a good traveller”) and explains the value of fiction techniques for travel writing (“the ability to write fiction…is helpful to someone writing a travel book”).  

This resonates with the views of Jan Morris, who resists not only being called a travel writer but also “the idea that travel writing has got to be factual.”  As if to make Theroux’s point about the closeness of travel writing and fiction, Morris recalls Theroux once saying to her that he “liked writing travel books because they gave him a plot; he didn’t have to think one up”.   However, as both authors point out, this does not simply mean making it up even though some travel writers haven been criticised for doing just that.

As for what the five books were? You can read those in the interview.

 

 

Article: There be dragons…Paul Theroux on travel in an unsafe world

The earth is often perceived as a foolproof Google map — not very large, easily accessible and knowable by any finger-drumming geek with a computer. In some respects this is true. Distance is no longer a problem. 

The reality is that much of the world is not as safe as we might like and news reports seem currently to add countries to the list of ‘unsafe places’ with alarming regularity.  

In a 2011 New York Times essay, Why We Travel, (published again by the NY Times after the Paris attacks of last November), Paul Theroux reflects on his own travels to places that he was warned off or that might seem unusual choices in light of political or civil unrest. 

The truth, Theroux muses, is that the world is not a static menu of places to visit.  Places have always suffered reversals in their fortunes that may affect whether they are safe to visit.  Some reversals may last longer than others but wars, dictatorships, hurricanes, floods, civil unrest, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and terrorism have always put some places out of most travellers’ comfort zones.

But, if the world’s travel map is constantly being redrawn in “tragic and unsettling ways”, that doesn’t mean that these places should necessarily be ignored by travellers.  

In Abroad, Paul Fussell reminds us that, etymologically, “travel is work” and “a traveler is one who suffers travail, a word deriving in its turn from Latin trillium, a torture instrument consisting of three stakes designed to rack the body.”   A few years later, in the forward to his 1985 Taste for Travel collection, John Julius Norwich lamented that the “the easier it becomes to travel, the harder it is to be a traveller.” 

So, in the same spirit, Theroux explains that travel to unsettled places may not always be be fun but can lead to genuinely rewarding experiences.  After all, travellers have always been “forced to recognize the fact that leaving home means a loss of innocence, encountering uncertainty: the wider world has typically been regarded as haunted, a place of darkness: “There Be Dragons.””

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Theroux describes how experiencing daily life in troubled places can be revelatory and highlights that, while an unattractive political situation in a place might make visiting as a tourist a matter of conscience, it doesn’t necessary mean that travelling there would be unsafe.

So what advice to the traveller who is having second thoughts about visiting a destination? The New York Times has just published two further pieces that offer assistance.  

The first, In Cairo, Alone Time With the Pharaohs, by Patrick Scott suggests ‘Go!’.  Describing a visit to Egypt where tourism collapsed in the wake of the 2011 uprising, Scott advises that the result is that it is now possible to “enjoy the privilege of solitude at some of the world’s greatest historic sites.”   To be a tourist in a place where there are no (or at least, few) other tourists is attraction enough for some people, before the added bonus of world class sites.

Despite the seemingly relentless stream of articles about Egypt, Scott finds that, while from afar visitors “perceive the news media coverage of Egypt as overly alarming”, once on the ground in the country they feel different and “without exception…say they feel safe”.   And, as if to prove Theroux’s point about places being in constant flux, Scott quotes a stoical tour operator:

As soon as we are not in the news, people will start coming. We are in their brains, we are in their hearts, we are on their bucket list.   

The second article, An Informed Traveler Is a Safer Traveler, by Seth Kugel (NYT’s Frugal Traveler) offers level-headed, practical advice.  Focussing on recent media coverage of the Zika virus, Kugel suggests that while there might be a great deal of media noise about some places and events, that isn’t necessarily a good indicator of risk.  While we might worry about terrorism abroad, we would do as well to check road safety statistics at home.   With a hefty dose of common sense Kugel advises that, rather than foregoing a journey, the cautious traveller should do some of their own research to see if the media are overstating the risk.  Kugel concludes, quoting Arthur Former, that the decision whether to not go is ultimately one of weighing risk and reward:  

Travel to me is too vital, too important a part of civilized life that I feel we would give up too much by not traveling for fear of terrorism to France, Belgium and other destinations. 

There are limits to all this of course.  Even a redoubtable traveller such as Theroux admits it is sometimes better to heed advice and his article should not be treated as encouragement to would be adventurers to head for the nearest newsworthy trouble spot.  For that, there is ‘Dark Tourism’ (see these articles in The Guardian and The Atlantic).

 

 

Article: RL Stevenson on enjoying unpleasant places

It is a difficult matter to make the most of any given place, and we have much in our own power.  Things looked at patiently from one side after another generally end by showing a side that is beautiful. (RL Stevenson)

Enjoying unpleasant places is not as odd as it first sounds.

After all, who ever said that travel was only ever about finding that perfect place where everything was just as we would wish it?   Not Pico Iyer, who in an essay for Salon, Why We Travel (published in 2000) noted that “never more than on the road are we shown how proportional our blessings are to the difficulty that precedes them”, or Lawrence Durrell, who said: 

Let the tourist be cushioned against misadventure; but your true traveller will not feel that he has had his money’s worth unless he brings back a few scars…No, the mishaps and disappointments only lend relief to the splendours of the voyage. (from Reflections on Travel in Spirit of Place).

So Stevenson, in his 1874 essay On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places considers what travellers can gain from unpleasant places, how their state of mind can also affect their reaction to a place and how, with the right frame of mind, there is enjoyment to be had in almost any place. 

Robert_Louis_Stevenson_by_SargentStevenson’s view is that we learn to live with the unpleasantness and “dwell lovingly on what is good, and shut our eyes against all that is bleak or inharmonious.”  For Stevenson, spending time in unpleasant places can be satisfying and, once we stop for long enough in a place and bring our imaginations to bear on it, “we forget to some degree the superior loveliness of other places, and fall into a tolerant and sympathetic spirit which is its own reward and justification.”  He notes, by way of example, that several weeks in unpleasant countryside did more to quicken his sensibilities than much longer periods in places he would have found more obviously attractive. 

Stevenson also observes that in visiting unpleasant places, we learn “to come to each place in the right spirit”.  That our own state of mind is an important factor in our reaction to any place is something Alain de Botton reflects on in his book, The Art of Travel (“[my] eyes were intimately tied to a body and mind which would travel with me wherever I went and that might…negate the purpose of of what the eyes had come there to see.”).  

As Stevenson expressed it:  

Nor does the scenery any more affect the thoughts than the thoughts affect the scenery.  We see places through our humours as through differently coloured glasses.  We are ourselves a term in the equation, a note of the chord, and make discord or harmony almost at will. 

Stevenson notes the important effect that unpleasant places will have on the writer, who “weaves something out of all that he sees and suffers by the way” and takes “their tone greatly from the varying character of the scene; a sharp ascent brings different thoughts from a level road; and the man’s fancies grow lighter as he comes out of the wood into a clearing.”  

However, he considers that “wherever a man is, he will find something to please and pacify him”, provided he looks for it in the “right spirit”.  

Ultimately therefore, Stevenson forms the paradoxical view that one can live almost anywhere, even if it is not possible to spend a few pleasurable hours there.  And, to prove his point, he describes a time he spent on rugged, wind battered coastline and the pleasure he derived from being in a physically tough environment, the contrast of finding shelter from the wind and the strong impression of peace he received while there.

So, travel to unpleasant places can be satisfying, rewarding and even pleasurable or, to put it another way:

Travel works best when you’re forced to come to terms with the place you’re in.  (Paul Theroux in The Atlantic)  

Stevenson’s On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places can be found online at Project Gutenberg or is available to download as a free Kindle ebook:

 

Book: Walking the Himalayas with Levison Wood

Walking the Himalayas
by Levison Wood 

Hodder & Houghton (2016)

So long as you’re not armed and come in peace, you’re willing to adopt local customs with sensitivity to culture and tradition and try not to judge too much – however tempting – you’ll generally be fine.

This is the second published expedition from former Parachute Regiment officer, Levison Wood.  His first, Walking the Nile, which was inspired by 19th century explorers such as Burton, Speke, Livingston, recounted his 2013/4 expedition walking the entire length of the Nile of 4,250 miles from from Rwanda to the Mediterranean and was commissioned as a documentary for Channel 4 in the UK.

In 2015, after a restless period in London, Wood decided its was time for another expedition and in 2015 he set out to walk over 1700 miles traversing the Himalayas, beginning in June in the west in the Wakhan Corridor, a finger of land separating Tajikistan from Pakistan in north eastern Afghanistan, and ending in the east in the kingdom of Bhutan in November.

This expedition was again commissioned as a documentary for television and the whole series is available to watch here on Channel 4.

The book however makes more than just an excellent companion and captures much more of the experience of Wood’s epic journey than a few short TV episodes ever could (good as the series is).  

It has more background and takes three or so chapters before the walk begins proper.  But, that enables Wood to relive a youthful backpacking trip during which he met one of his guides, Binod and also time to talk us through his frustration at finding himself back in London after walking the Nile.   We learn a bit more abut him and what motivates and inspires him and he sufficiently conveys his boredom as he reorganises his extensive travel library thematically and whiles away his time in Gordon’s wine bar in Charing Cross.

Having fixed on the region, Wood decides that, rather than breaking records or climbing mountains, he will use the opportunity to explore on foot the foothills and lower mountains of the Himalayas: 

For me it was the people I encountered that attracted me to travel.  And travelling on foot is the only way to explore the backcountry and villages that are hidden from the main trails and roads.  it is also the way people have travelled in these regions for millennia and there seems to be a common bond between pedestrians everywhere. The physical hardships, the risks, the user vulnerability mean that on the whole you will be looked upon as a fellow human being rather than a foreigner or, worse, a tourist.”

Wood is a great travel companion.  He is knowledgeable and informative on the region and its history having visited most of the places previously but is unpretentious with an easy manner.   He takes the journey’s difficulties in his stride (and despite being at relatively lower altitudes for the Himalayas, there were plenty.)  

Its about the journey, its about the people that you meet and its about sharing those experiences.

The personal, whether the characters he meets, people who join him for parts of the walk or about what Wood reveals of himself, are at the heart of this journey and make it one worth accompanying him on.  As you’d expect, he meets a wide variety of people and, while he approaches those he meets with openness, he has a healthy scepticism rather than a wide eyed naivety, which is refreshing.  

London’s travel bookshop, Stanford’s held an event with Levison Wood in February 2016 and is available as a podcast on iTunes via their blog on the Stanford’s website. (sorry, can’t figure out to how to embed it here.) Worth a listen (32 mins plus 15mins Q&A) to get a good sense both of Levison Wood and of the trip. 

Find out a bit more about Levinson Wood, his trek and explorer heartthrob status here in the Telegraph, here in Stuff magazine, here in the Stoke Sentinel, Wood’s local paper (as well as here and here).  You can also always try  Walking the Himalayas as an audiobook narrated by Levison Wood on a free trial from audible.com:

Book: Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad

The Innocents Abroad, or the new Pilgrims’ Progress
by Mark Twain

Published in 1869

The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become, until he goes abroad.

Innocents Abroad was Mark Twain’s first travel book and also his best-selling book during his life time.   A travel writing classic, it features in Conde Nast Traveler’s 86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time and World Hum’s list of 100 Most Celebrated Travel Books.   

The details of the trip are well known.  In 1967, just two years after the end of the American Civil War, Twain joined a group of 60 or so other passengers on a tour of the Mediterranean (“a pleasure excursion” and “picnic on a grand scale”).  The voyage was to be undertaken on the paddle steamship, the Quaker City.  Decommissioned following service in the Civil War, the Quaker City had been refitted “with every necessary comfort” including a library, musical instruments and even a printing press so that the passengers could print their own newsletter.  

Innocents ABroad USS_Quaker_City

The trip lasted about 5 months.  It took a fortnight to reach Gibraltar from the US and Twain reports (not without apprehension at the anticipated boredom) that it would take several weeks to steam back to the US from the Eastern Mediterranean; a long time to spend on a boat about 75 metres in length.   

In the remaining four or less months, the ‘Pilgrims’ packed in an impressive amount, taking in (among other places) Tangiers, Paris, Milan, the Italian lakes, Florence and Rome, the Black Sea ports of Sebastopol (for some Crimea battlefield tourism), Yalta and Odessa before heading to the Holy Land which was the ultimate goal of the trip.  

The only thing more impressive than the number of places visited by the Pilgrims was Twain’s output.  Twain’s $1,250 fare for the voyage was paid by The Daily Alto California.  In return, he sent the San Francisco paper over 50 letters which it published and which later formed the basis of the 600 plus page book Twain wrote after his return in 1868.    

Twain Innocents Abroad

From the outset Twain makes it clear that he is not writing an earnest and reverent travel book, calling it a “record of a pleasure trip” and he proceeds to rail against travellers, travel pretences, foreigners and foreign places and also travel writers.

Twain is unsparing of Parisian barbers, tour guides, European use of soap, Turkish baths and, of course, ‘our friends the Bermudians’ as well as a great many other things he encounters.  He professes to be sated by walls of paintings and is sceptical of tourists who express wonder at the Last Supper and instead claims to be more interested in turnpikes, depots and boulevards of uniform houses because he understands them and is not competent to act as a guide to Europe’s art treasures for his readers (“I make small pretense of showing anyone how he ought to look at objects of interest beyond the sea—other books do that, and therefore, even if I were competent to do it, there is no need.”)  Twain’s humour is, for the most part, gentle and aimed at deserving targets.  Only occasionally is he biting or more cruel but his wit is invariably delivered with perfect timing.  

The innocents abroad: or, The new Pilgrim's progress. By Mark Twain. Uniform title: Prospectus Publication info: Hartford, Conn. : American Publishing Co., [1869] Special Collections Copies Material Location PS1312 .A1 1869ca RAREBOOK Special Collections SC-BARR-STThrough his observations and humour, Twain encourages the traveller to look for things which interest him rather than simply those things noted in guidebooks or travel books.  

Twain mocks different traveller types, from the Oracle who bores his fellow travellers with knowledge gleaned from guidebooks and passed off as learned, the Old Travellers who brag and “prate and drivel and lie”, the consummate ass who dresses in local fashion and feigns a foreign accent and the Vandal who inscribes his name on monuments.  He makes fun of their insularity, ignorance and innocence.  While his own innocence may be feigned, Twain also turns his pen on himself, confessing to be variously, a “consummate” and “egregious” ass.

He reserves special mention for travel writers who “heated their fancies and biased their judgment”, turning out “pleasant falsities” either to be popular or to deceive or who slavishly emulate other authors.  Twain is critical of his fellow Pilgrims who ‘smouch’ their opinions about places from those books so that they “will tell of Palestine, when they get home, not as it appeared to them”, but as it appeared to writers of travel books.

Innocents Abroad is therefore an exercise in suggesting to the reader “how he would be likely to see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes instead of the eyes of those who traveled in those countries before him.”   

Although referred as a travel writing classic, in its railing against traveller types, travel pretences, foreigners and foreign places as well as travel writers, Innocents Abroad could in some ways be considered an anti-travel writing classic. With his repeated comparison of foreign sights with the US, Twain also gives the impression of someone who would almost have rather remained at home. Nevertheless, it is clear he is ‘pricking bubbles’ and ‘exploding humbugs’ of travel, not least those who slavishly adhere to guidebooks and express wonder and delight on cue. 

In common with other serialised Nineteenth Century books, at times Innocents Abroad seems a little lengthy, but is almost always enjoyable.  Twain meanders at some points of the Holy Land excursion when recalling his bible history, but even those chapters contain some excellent passages and anecdotes.

Some contemporary reviews of Innocents Abroad are available on line here and include WD Howells’ review for the Atlantic, and also a spoof review written by Twain himself.  

Innocents Abroad is available download for free in a variety of electronic formats at Amazon, Project Gutenberg, or the Internet Archive.

If you like the sound of this, you might also be interested in Labels by Evelyn Waugh.

 

 

Book: Fado, by Andrzej Stasiuk

Fado
by Andrzej Stasiuk (translated by Bill Johnston)

Published by Dalkey Archive, (2006, trans 2009)

“To travel is to live.  Or in any case to live doubly, triply, multiple times.”

Andrjez Stasiuk was born in Poland in 1960.  After being expelled from school and joining the peace movement, Stasiuk was imprisoned for deserting from the army. 

After his release from prison, Stasiuk began writing, has authored more than 15 books of fiction, essays and travel writing.  In 2005 was awarded the NIKE award (an annual literary prize for the best book published in Polish) for his travel book On the Road to Babadag which was published in English in 2011. He lives away from Warsaw in a mountain village near the Polish border with Slovakia. 

Although translated into English before On the Road to Babadag, Fado was actually published in Polish afterwards.  

Fado (the titles refers to a melancholy style of Portuguese song), is a melancholy mediation on the themes of modernity and memory set against the parts of Europe bordering Poland.  Fado is lyrical and powerful and commands the attention from its  opening paragraphs which are reminiscent of the opening of Lynch’s Lost Highway:

“Best of all is night in a foreign country on the highway, because at those times foreignness extends across the entire earth and sweeps everyone up indiscriminately in its flow”

A series of essays rather than a continuing narrative travelogue (possibly because although Stasiuk likes to travel, he does not like to be away from for longer than three or so weeks), Fado is better read as a whole.

His themes are modernity, the past and memory and describes places where the past co-exists with the present and contrasting the lives played out in those places with the time in which those lives are lived.

He and a photographer friend stop take pictures of Romanian gypsies who “come from long ago when people needed much less” but were trying to live in the present and after they exact a price for the photos paid in cigarettes he observes “we had reduced their humanity to an exotic image, they limited ours to the economy of their own survival.”

The places Stasiuk takes us to or not ones we are familiar with:  Belgrade, the Carpathian Mountains, Pogradec and the Accursed Mountains in Albania, Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia and of course Poland.  

Stasiuk is drawn to places in the margins, places that seem like the end of he world or have dream like qualities, their reality “a little dulled at the edges, a little rounded”.   He shifts from Montenegrin resorts and their “tawdry imitation of the modern” Stasiuk to places where the past still exists and “only the cars moving along the highway remind us that it is the twenty-first century.”

There is at times an ethereal quality to Fado.  Driving through lands “inhabited by forgotten people leading inconspicuous lives” the countryside passes in a blur outside Stasiuk’s car window until he stops to fix his gaze on something and then his descriptions are vivid and his images potent.  From the Dante-es que description of gypsies living in an abandoned mine to describing the beauty in the colours and scenes of autumn in remote parts of Poland.

Written at a time when Central and Eastern European countries were joining the EU, Stasiuk’ examination of this mixing of East and West Europe and what each may mean to the other is captivating (“Yes, indeed, two hundred million new Europeans is a real challenge.  It ought to drive the sleep from people’s eyes and fill them with anxiety and joy, because what will happen next will resemble the discovery of a new continent.” and “Is it possible to merge two streams of history that have flowed separately alongside one another for so long.”).  Given current debates about immigration in Europe his observations still resonate.

Stasis is often compared to Jack Kerouac.   That is unsurprising given Stasiuk seems to invite such comparisons (“So then, all of this reminding myself, this sitting on my backside in the semi-darkness and constantly travelling backwards, this staring into memory’s rear view mirror, this lyric of loss, this Slavic On the Road that I’m knocking out on my typewriter – at three-fifteen A.M”) but there is much more to him than that.

Despite his themes of memory, loss  and modernity, Stasiuk is examines the current situations of the countries he visits and also considers were they are going in terms of culture and identity.   In that sense, his work is vital and therefore indispensable to helping to understand countries with which many of us are only just becoming familiar. 

There is a biography of Stasiuk and his work at www.culture.pl.

 

 

 

 

 

Book: Overland to Singpore by Landrover, Tim Slessor

First Overland SlessorFirst Overland: London – Singapore by Landrover by Tim Slessor
Signal Books Ltd, 2005

 

 The good road ended like all good roads do
In 1955, six Oxford and Cambridge graduates, confident “almost to the point of arrogance” set out on an 18,000 mile journey from London to Singapore which lasted just over 6 months.
Styling themselves the The Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition (only one of the team was in fact an Oxford graduate), they set off in two factory fresh vehicles provided by Landrover, with money sufficient to buy a clockwork camera and some film provided by the BBC (thanks to Sir David Attenborough, producer in charge of he BBC’s Exploration Unit at the time) and sponsorship from 8 other firms (including a distiller, cigarette manufacturer and Brook Bond tea).
They went because they wanted to, explains Tim Slessor in his preface.  Although he is not drawn into trying to explain or justify the expedition more deeply he points out that their motives were not simply superficial.  No doubt with 6 participants there were a variety of reasons and motives but they could hardly be blamed if the opportunity to turn names on maps into places they had seen and to undertake an epic overland journey not previously completed were not reasons enough.
The film Sir David Attenborough provided them with was put to good use and was turned into three programmes broadcast on the BBC after the expedition returned.  Surviving  footage gives a glimpse of the expedition:
It is hard not too look at the footage and see that, in many respects they travelled through a different world.  Two years before they set off, Hilary and Tensing had summited Everest.  Only months after they completed their outward journey, Nasser had renationalised the Suez Canal and by the time they had returned home, Britain had launched its invasion of Egypt.  Within another couple of years Lebanon and Iraq were both engulfed by civil war.
Making their the post war period, they witnessed the closing  They are assisted on their way by representatives of the Brook Bond tea company  Within months of  different to a world As they prepare in Calcutta and set off from Assam into Burma along the Stilwell road and into naga territory there is a sense of the real adventure beginning, recalling the importance of the area in WWII as they listened to radio reports when they wee young and heads no doubt full of reports if Hunt/Hillary Everest expedition they call their last stop in India ‘base camp’ and in their last telegram home before setting off use a code word in the manner of James Morris reporting to london that Hilary had successfully conquered Everests summit.

 

 

 

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Book: Barbara Greene, Too Late to Turn Back

Too Late to Turn Back, Barbara GreeneLate to Turn Back: Barbara and Graham Greene in Liberia
by Barbara Greene (with an introduction by Paul Theroux)

published by the Travel Library

Too Late to Turn Back (also published as Land Benighted) is Barbara Greene’s account of her trek with her cousin, Graham Greene, through the Liberian bush in 1935.

From that adventure, Graham Greene produced Journey Without Maps.  Barbara’s account, to borrow from Paul Theroux, is however “quite a different pair of shoes”.

The difference between Graham and Barbara’s accounts can be characterised by the books they took with them to Liberia.  While Graham took Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy and produced the darker more introspective Journey Without Maps, Barbara travelled with Saki and Somerset Maugham and produced a more accessible, vivacious travelogue.

While Too Late to Turn Back is considered valuable as a companion piece to Journey Without Maps and as a portrait of Graham Greene, there is, along side the self-effacement and modesty of its author, much more to Too Late to Turn Back.

Barbara Greene was 23 years old when, having been “merrily drinking champagne”, she met her cousin Graham at the wedding reception of Hugh Greene (Graham’s brother) (Although this article suggests that Barbara may have disguised her real age).

Greene’s plans for his Liberian adventure were already well advanced and, because everyone else had refused, Greene asked his cousin Barbara if she would accompany him. Barbara promptly agreed although she “had no clear idea of where he was going to”.

Both Graham and Barbara were later to recall the rashness of their decision to travel to Liberia.  Barbara described them both as being “two innocents” whose “ignorance was abysmal”.  Regretting her “champagne decision”, Barbara hoped her father would forbid her from making the journey but, to her surprise, found that he approved and so, within a fortnight, they were on their way.

As Barbara later acknowledged, it was “unusual then for young girls to adventure off into the wilds”, but “adventure off” she did and what follows in Too Late to Turn Back is the account of a young woman from a privileged existence who had admitted to enjoying her creature comforts roughing it through the African bush.  

As a travelling companion, Graham Greene was complimentary about Barbara, describing her in Ways of Escape as being “as good a companion as the circumstances allowed”.  He also recalled that she left all the decisions to him and never criticised when he made the wrong one.  An arduous journey is likely to strain even the closest of relationships of friendships and theirs was no exception.  Graham noted that, towards the end of the trip they would “lapse into long silences” but found this “infinitely preferable” to raised voices.  Barbara recalled many years later that they “never quarrelled, not once” and also that, although she had not, at any time, been the least bit helpful she “never, never complained”.

This last detail is a telling one.  Despite the seemingly carefree manner of her departure and references to the Savoy Grill and her privileged life in London, Barbara must have had considerable pluck to undertake a journey on foot through the West African bush as a lone woman with a cousin she regarded only as an “acquaintance” and an entourage of 29 carriers, cooks and guides.  They faced many hardships during their trek and Graham’s health progressively worsened prompting Barbara to fear he may die.

Although the book is the sort of travelogue that her cousin was keen to avoid writing, and despite the journey’s hardships Barbara’s account is engaging, revealing small details (such as Graham’s slipping down socks) which lend the narrative intimacy, warmth and humour. She is overly modest, although genuinely so and displays respect and admiration for her cousin, particularly over his handling of the carriers as well as for his presence, intelligence and intellect.  (At one point,  Greene admonishes Barbara over a pair of shorts she was wearing.  Barbara doesn’t repeat his words but, chastened, simply records that Graham “told me with all wealth of phrase at his command exactly what I looked like in them. It was worse than I imagined and hurriedly and humbly I gave the shorts to Laminah.”)

Theroux, in his 1981 introduction notes that Barbara changes during her journey from “scatty socialite” to “hardy and courageous”.  He notes her modesty, dignity, bravery and loyalty and suggests that her transformation shows that “however lighthearted a departure is, if the traveller is generous, observant and dedicated to the trip, the traveller will be changed.

Barbara later confessed to being unsure of how much the journey changed her although  admitted it must have done unconsciously.  She thought that managing “to stick through all difficulties to the end” showed “no particular merit” on her part as they had reached the point of no return early in their trip.  Although probably turn to a certain extent, one senses that this is more modesty and self effacement.

Unlike her cousin, Barbara never returned to Africa.  Remembering the trip in later life, Barbara identified the treasure that she brought back from their Liberian journey as being one that she kept in her heart: “a dream of pure beauty and peace, a vision of moonlit villages in the jungle, friendly people dancing to the twang of a native harp and the beat of a drum , simplicity where material values were of no account and where understanding could be reached without words.”

In Ways of Escape, Graham later stated that Barbara writing her book was the one thing in which she had disappointed him.  He had been so busy with his own notes that he had not even noticed that Barbara was making her own.  Greene was, however, grateful that Barbara had at least waited until a few years after his own had been published.  In fact, Barbara never meant for her book to be published and had only re-written her notes so that she had something to read to her father when he became ill.

Originally published as Land Benighted in 1938, Barbara’s account was reprinted in 1981 with a new forward by her and with an introduction by Paul Theroux. Unfortunately, the book is currently out of print but second hand copies can be found online.