Travel books Archive

Another Winn for Raynor

In The Guardian at the weekend, Amy-Jane Beer welcomed Landlines, Raynor Winn’s latest walking odyssey with her husband, Moth. It is, she says, “a wonderful book”:

Winn seems to have a bird’s-eye view of Britain – a map at her feet, a keen eye for detail, particularly for social injustice. Hers is a voice of empathy and integrity, and her points are never made polemically, but by the simple observation of others’ experiences.

A migrant at the age of nine

I’ve been reading great things from reviewers in the United States about Solito, in which the Salvadorean poet Javier Zamora recreates the journey he made at the age of nine over land and sea to join his parents in California. His parents had emigrated to the US before he turned five, and he had been living with his grandparents. The book has been featured in publications as various as The New York Times and High Country News (which covers social, political and ecological issues in the western US). But it wasn’t until I saw an interview yesterday with Zamora in the Review section of The Observer that I realised Solito was being published simultaneously in Britain (by Oneworld). 

Zamora — a graduate of the creative writing programme at New York University and a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University, California — had written of his experience as a migrant in his debut poetry collection, Unaccompanied. He told Killian Fox that he had been prompted to turn to prose and write Solito by “the weight of the trauma” that he had carried since boyhood:

I began… during Donald Trump’s America, when everybody was talking about immigration. In 2017, when we had the Central American child crisis at the border, it seemed it was the first time Americans realised that there had been child migrants. It angered me that they didn’t realise it had been occurring for decades, and I was part of that.

  But he says there was joy and hope as well as hardship during his journey:

I can still taste the fish we had in Acapulco and remember how happy we were getting food from nuns in a shelter near the border. It’s moments such as these that are absent from news clippings and even other works of fiction and non-fiction about immigration.

  In retracing his journey, Zamora was helped by Francisco Cantú, who had worked as a Border Patrol agent in the areas where Zamora had crossed — a time he recalled in his own acclaimed memoir, The Line Becomes a River. Letters between the two men were included by William Atkins in his 2021 anthology for Granta of new travel writing, Should We Have Stayed At Home?; you can still read them on the Granta magazine site.

The Himalayas, minus the clichés

In The Guardian on Saturday, Anna Fleming (author of Time on Rock: A Climber’s Route into the Mountains) reviewed High (MacLehose Press), an account of a journey through the Himalayas by the Norwegian writer Erika Fatland. It’s a book, she says, that steers clear of clichés about the region and comes to life through conversations. “Fatland, as traveller and anthropologist, establishes a unique rapport with girls and women, leading to precious insights into lives rarely recorded.”

Fatland will be speaking about her book at Stanfords bookshop in London on October 6 and at the Cheltenham Literature Festival a couple of days later.

On the move, with Winn, Palin and company

“This September,” the blurb on the back of the bound proof goes, “the million-copy bestseller returns”. Raynor Winn has been on another long walk, and the result, Landlines (Michael Joseph, £20), is due to be published on September 15. Having walked 630 miles along the South-West coast of England for The Salt Path, then tried to readjust to normal life before taking on the rewilding of a farm (The Wild Silence), Winn and her husband Moth — who is terminally ill — set off to walk 1,000 miles from the north-west corner of Scotland to the south coast of Cornwall. “On their epic journey,” the publisher says, “they map the landscape of an island nation facing an uncertain path…”

Sir Michael Palin’s travels as a television presenter have taken him to the Poles and the Sahara, to the Himalayas and North Korea, but until this year he knew little of the Middle East. In March, for a forthcoming series for Channel 5, he went Into Iraq, following the Tigris from source to sea in an attempt to understand “how the birthplace of civilisation [has] become so riven by conflict”. His book, bearing the same title as the TV series (Hutchinson Heinemann, £16.99, September 15), is an illustrated day-by-day account of the journey. 

There’s an endorsement from Palin on the cover of Himālaya: Exploring the Roof of the World by the historian John Keay (Bloomsbury, £30, September 15): “It adds the human element to the hard rock. And what a rich vein it is,” he says.
  Keay has been visiting the region since the 1960s, when he was a foreign correspondent in Kashmir. His book — “ranging from botany to trade, from the Great Game to today’s geopolitics” — is the summation of a lifetime’s study of one of the last great wildernesses. 

When the pandemic clipped his wings, Nigel Richardson looked for travel stories closer to home. After one outing with a metal detectorist in Kent, he was hooked on a new hobby. In The Accidental Detectorist: Uncovering An Underground Obsession (Cassell, £20, September 1), he sifts Britain’s soil from Portsmouth to Edinburgh, explores the psyches of those hooked on “happy bleeps”, and celebrates “places far too obvious for me to have noticed before: the ones in front of my eyes and beneath my feet”. (Interest declared: Nigel Richardson is a friend and former colleague of mine.)

  And here’s a couple of recently published books I’ve not had time to mention here :

Nemesis, My Friend: Journeys through the turning times by Jay Griffiths (Little Toller, £18)
Hard to summarise this collection of essays from the Wales-based author and champion of wild places. Nemesis, she argues, should be seen as a goddess not of retribution but of “limits, proportion, proper measurement and rightness”, and a vital guide on a planet we’ve overheated. Griffiths follows the changing light through days and seasons and across the globe, moving from listening to birdsong in her garden in Wales to communing with independence campaigners in West Papua. 

My Family and Other Enemies: Life and Travels in Croatia’s Hinterland by Mary Novakovich (Bradt, £9.99)
In a book combining travel and memoir, Novakovich explores the sparsely populated Croatian region of Lika, birthplace of her parents and a land that has endured centuries of strife. Over visits spanning more than 40 years, she uncovers her family’s tumultuous history as well as the stories of people who survived the conflicts of the 20th century. Along the way, she celebrates an indomitable people, and “beauty among the bullet holes”.

*Updated September 2: I’m reminded by the latest “Genius Loci” newsletter from Jeremy Bassetti that Mary Novakovich was a recent guest on his Travel Writing World podcast.

Doorways into Greece, Herefordshire and Iceland

Thanks to Atlantic Books for alerting me to three of its recently published titles, all touching in one way or another on travel or place or both:

Looking for Theophrastus: Travels in Search of a Lost Philosopher by Laura Beatty, published in May. Beatty– who has written novels as well as non-fiction — travels across land and 2,000 years into the past “to rescue from obscurity Aristotle’s friend and Chaucer’s inspiration”.

A Home for All Seasons (June) by Gavin Plumley. Having moved with his husband into an old house in rural Herefordshire, Plumley, an urban-minded cultural historian, embarks on a “hybrid work of domestic history and European art, of memoir and landscape”.

The Raven’s Nest by Sara Thomas (published on July 7). “Artfully weaving nature writing, memoir and travel, this is the story of learning to belong among the elemental landscape of Iceland’s bewitching Westfjords.” Advance praise for Thomas’s debut has come from writers including Robert Macfarlane and Cal Flyn.

‘Landscapes of Silence’

Landscapes of Silence by the anthropologist Hugh Brody (Faber, £20), which I finished a few days ago and have been thinking about ever since, is an extraordinary book. It’s a hymn to the Arctic, and to the ways of the hunter-gatherers who made Brody feel at home there. It’s haunting in its account of things that went unsaid, both in his Jewish family in Sheffield, after the Second World War, and among the Inuit in the Canadian far north, facing the worst side-effects of “development” and “progress”. It’s also beautifully written. 

And I see, thanks to a tweet today from the writer Tim Dee, that a piece adapted from the book appeared in the “Long Read” slot in The Guardian on July 21.

What’s new in writing on travel and place

Travel and place figured strongly in the Saturday magazine of The Guardian. There were reviews of Motherlands by Amaryllis Gacioppo (Bloomsbury), “a remarkable literary debut” in which a writer and translator born into an Italian family in Australia traces her ancestors’ footsteps across Europe and Libya; and Swamp Songs by Tom Blass (also from Bloomsbury), who, in “a bracingly original work”, goes in search of the people who live by marsh, meadow and other wetlands. In the essay slot, “The Big Idea”, James Crawford, author of The Edge of the Plain: How Borders Make and Break Our World (out this Thursday from Canongate), asked whether fixed frontiers are sustainable in an era of global heating and mass migration, and what arrangements might replace them.  His piece doesn’t appear to be online yet, but I’ll add a link when it is. * (Incidentally, the current “Story of the Week” slot in the digital magazine Narrative focuses on one particular fault-line. William Fleeson, who was born in Washington, DC, crosses the US-Mexico border for the first time between El Paso and Juárez, which “share a border, a river, and the same broken marriage”.

  One of the latest contributions to the website Five Books is on books that convey a strong sense of place. They’re chosen by Patrick Galbraith, author of In Search of One Last Song: Britain’s disappearing birds and the people trying to save them (William Collins).

 From the archives of The New York Review of Books comes a celebration of Maine from 1971 by Elizabeth Hardwick, novelist, biographer and one of the magazine’s founders:

Nature more than man inclines toward the general in Maine. The place always reminds one of some abstract pictorial representation of itself. Rotting boats, apple green. The cold, severe seas, home to old sailors with grizzled, undulating beards, boots, rubber coat, head turned to one side in a rocky smile. Is it Winslow Homer?

Many more diversions await in the latest Genius Loci newsletter from Jeremy Bassetti, host of the Travel Writing World podcast. He’s currently en route to South America, from where he will be posting a regular photography newsletter, “30 Days in the Andes”.

* James Crawford’s piece is now online.

Win a copy of ‘Outlandish’ by Nick Hunt

Nick Hunt has been drawn by the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor (Walking the Woods and the Water) and blown by four of Europe’s winds (Where the Wild Winds Are) across the continent. In his latest book, Outlandish, out now in paperback, he takes us through wildernesses that seem to belong elsewhere: Arctic tundra in Scotland; primeval forest in Poland and Belarus; a desert in Spain; and the grassland steppes of Hungary. “Perhaps,” he says, “the result is not a nature book, or even a travel book, so much as a book of fantasy: four small pilgrimages into imagination.”

You can now read an extract from Outlandish here on Deskbound Traveller. Thanks to the publisher, John Murray, I have five copies of the paperback to give away; to be in with a chance of winning one, just retweet my mention of the book on Twitter from either @kerraway or @deskboundtravel.

Nick Hunt will be talking about Outlandish on Thursday at Waterstone’s in Bristol

Terms and conditions
Entrants must retweet a mention of the prize on Twitter from @kerraway or @deskboundtravel by midnight on August 2. Each winner, who must be resident in the United Kingdom or Ireland, will receive one copy of the book. Winners will be selected at random and notified by August 5. Unsuccessful entrants will not be contacted.

Taking off with the atlas

In an extract on Literary Hub from his latest book, Imagine a City, the pilot Mark Vanhoenacker remembers how it used to be an atlas, rather than a 747, that transported him across the world.

Brody and Blackburn in London session

Two writers whose latest books blend memoir, travel writing and anthropology will be brought together in conversation at the Marylebone shop of Daunt Books in London next month. One is Hugh Brody, whose Landscapes of Silence I mentioned in a recent roundup. The other is Julia Blackburn, whose Dreaming The Karoo (Jonathan Cape) tells of her journey to the Karoo region of South Africa, to explore the ancestral lands that once belonged to an indigenous group called the /Xam. In a review for The New Statesman, Lucy Hughes-Hallett concludes that Blackburn “works a miracle. In this book dead people talk in a dead language, describing a culture and way of life which is also dead, and yet, thanks to… Blackburn’s tactful, beautifully-framed extrapolations, those dead come before us and speak.”