Author Archive

Lea Ypi wins Ondaatje Prize for Albania memoir

The £10,000 RSL Ondaatje Prize, for a work “that best evokes the spirit of a place”, was awarded last night to Lea Ypi for Free, a memoir chronicling her coming- of-age in Albania during the fall of communism.

Ypi is professor of political theory at the London School of Economics, and political science and adjunct professor in philosophy at the Australian National University. Her book was also short-listed for the 2021 Costa Biography Award and the 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize. She will be one of the speakers at a session of the forum 5×15 on March 23. Also on the bill is William Atkins, who, in his latest book, Exiles, travels to the places where three people were banished at the height of European colonialism.

Flyn short-listed for Ondaatje Prize

Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment (William Collins) is one of six books short-listed today for the £10,000 RSL Ondaatje Prize, for a work “that best evokes the spirit of a place”. The other books are:

The Manningtree Witches by A K Blakemore (Granta)
Writing the Camp by Yousif M Qasmiyeh (Broken Sleep Books)
Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera (Viking)
The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak (Penguin)
Free by Lea Ypi (Allen Lane).

The winner will be announced on May 4.

On the North, and on the river

A quick mention of a couple of new books on place and travel that have appeared recently in the US: Extreme North: A Cultural History by Bernd Brunner (W W Norton & Company), which Liesl Schillinger, in The New York Times, describes as “an idiosyncratic inquiry into the power of the north in the popular imagination” (I’m reminded of Peter Davidson’s The Idea of North); and Riverman by Ben McGrath (Alfred A Knopf),  which was inspired by the disappearance of a canoeist, Dick Conant, and is, according to Gregory Cowles, also in The NY Times, “a portrait of forgotten American byways and the eccentric characters who populate them, a cursory history of river travel in America and, not least, an effort to solve the riddle of Conant himself — not only his whereabouts but also his elusive and irresistible nature”.

Flyn and Sethi on long list for Ondaatje Prize

Delighted to see that two of my favourite books of 2021 are on the long list for the £10,000 Ondaatje Prize, which was announced today: Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn and I Belong Here by Anita Sethi. Also included is Iberia (which appeared towards the end of the year and I didn’t have time to consider for my roundup), the latest journey on two wheels from Julian Sayarer, who won the Stanford Dolman prize in 2017 for his book on the United States, Interstate. The award, an annual one made by the Royal Society of Literature, is for a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry “that best evokes the spirit of a place”. For the full long list, see the RSL’s website.

The short list will be announced on April 20 and the winner on May 4.

Eland at 40

Eland, that loving custodian of travel classics, celebrates its 40th anniversary on Friday (March 25).  To mark the occasion, it’s issuing three titles: The Hill of Devi by E M Forster, One People by Guy Kennaway and Three Women of Herat by Veronica Doubleday.  You can hear Barnaby Rogerson of Eland talk about the company’s back catalogue in the first session of the travel writer Ryan Murdock’s “Personal Landscapes” podcast, released in June last year.

‘A treasure chest’ on France

When I compiled my roundup of books on travel and place coming out this year, I hadn’t heard of the latest from that cycling historian Graham Robb. France: An Adventure History won’t officially be published until March 17 (Picador, £25), but it was reviewed yesterday in The Sunday Times by David Sexton, who said it was “packed full of discoveries: a treasure chest to be opened with relish by all who love France”.

Thubron wins Stanford Dolman prize

Colin Thubron last night won the £2,500 Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year award — organised by the bookseller Stanfords in association with the Authors’ Club — for The Amur River: Between Russia and China (Chatto & Windus).

Read an extract from ‘Islands of Abandonment’

I see there’s an extract from Cal Flyn’s wonderful Islands of Abandonment — which last week won her the 2021 Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Trust Young Writer of the Year Award — up on the website of Granta magazine.

Stanford Dolman winner due this week

The winner is due to be announced this week of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year award. Before that, at the Stanfords shop in London on Wednesday (March 2), a session on “the power of travel writing and the need to explore” will bring together the writers Colin Thubron, Tharik Hussain (both short-listed for this year’s award) and Monisha Rajesh, in a conversation with Jeremy Bassetti, host of the Travel Writing World podcast.

The call of the cold

The story of Tété-Michel Kpomassie’s extraordinary journey from Togo to Greenland, which I mentioned in a recent roundup of forthcoming books, is now out in a new edition from Penguin.
The author is currently living in Paris, but since he first arrived in the Arctic, in 1965, he has been back three times. This year, at 81, he is returning again — to live out his remaining years. He told Michael Segalov, who interviewed him for a piece published yesterday in The Observer: “It’s my destiny.”