Travel books Archive

On the bill for the Stanfords Travel Writers Festival

Iain MacGregor, author of The Lighthouse of Stalingrad, and Tom Parfitt, a reporter for The Times, whose High Caucasus: A Mountain Quest in Russia’s Haunted Hinterland is due out in May, will be comparing notes on their travels in Russia at the Stanfords Travel Writers Festival, part of the Destinations show at Olympia, London, next week. Other writers on the bill include James Crawford (The Edge of the Plain: How Borders Make and Break Our World), Mary Novakovich (My Family and Other Enemies: Life and Travels in Croatia’s Hinterland), Karen Edwards (The Responsible Traveller) and Nicholas Crane (Latitude).

‘Soundings’ out in paperback

Soundings, a brilliant debut in which Doreen Cunningham, travelling with her son, tracks the migration of grey whale mothers and their calves from the lagoons of Mexico to the glaciers of the Arctic, is out in paperback (Virago) on February 2. The author will be in conversation with the writer and editor Erica Wagner at the Review bookshop in Peckham, London, on February 6.

More new books on travel and place

Since I compiled my roundup on forthcoming books on travel and place I’ve been alerted to a few more titles:

The Hidden Fires: A Cairngorms Journey with Nan Shepherd by Merryn Glover (Polygon, £14.99, March 2)
Glover, an Australian who grew up in the Himalayas, explores the high and rocky heart of Scotland in the footsteps of the author of The Living Mountain. Her book, the publisher says, is “a conversation between two women across nearly a century that explores how entering the life of a mountain can illuminate our own”. Glover was interviewed this week in The Scotsman.

All the Wide Border: Wales, England and the Places Between by Mike Parker (HarperCollins, £20, March 30)
Parker, who was born in England and settled in Wales, takes a scenic journey along a great divide. “Picking apart the many notions and clichés of Englishness, Welshness and indeed Britishness,” he “plays with the very idea of borders, our fascination with them, our need for them, and our response to their power. In his hands, the England–Wales border is revealed to be a border within us all, and it is fraying, fast.”

Wounded Tigris: A River Journey Through the Cradle of Civilisation by Leon McCarron (Corsair Books, £20, April 6)
The Tigris, which has been the lifeblood of ancient Mesopotamia and modern Iraq, is threatened by both geopolitics and climate change. Wounded Tigris, McCarron says on Twitter, is “the story of what humanity would lose with the death of a great river, and of what can be done to try to save it”.

The Seaside: England’s Love Affair by Madeleine Bunting (Granta, £20, May 4)
Bunting — whose Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey was short-listed in 2017 for the Wainwright Prize and for the non-fiction category in Scotland’s National Book Awards — journeys clockwise through the country’s biggest resorts, from Scarborough to Morecambe, to explore the enduring appeal of salt air, and “to trace an extraordinary national phenomenon of boom and decline, reinvention and struggle”.

Words from the road in 2023: new books on travel and place

Journeys through Cambodian pop and in search of paradise; new explorations of Wales and Cornwall: these are some of the books on travel and place coming in 2023…

Away from Beloved Lover: A Musical Journey Through Cambodia by Dee Peyok (Granta, £16.99, January 5)
On her first trip to Cambodia 10 years ago, Peyok, a former session singer, heard a local cover version of the Procol Harum hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. She bought a set of CDs including that song, retitled “Away From Beloved Lover”. Thus began a journey across the country and back to “the golden age” of Cambodian pop, which started in the early 1960s — a decade after independence — and ended in the mid-1970s, when the genocide of the Khmer Rouge wiped out 90 per cent of the young musicians.

The Half Known Life: Finding Paradise in a Divided World by Pico Iyer (Bloomsbury, £16.99, January 19)
Pico Iyer has travelled the world as a writer for newspapers and magazines — a “global soul”, as the title of one of his earlier books had it. In The Half-Known Life, he explores some of the world’s holiest sites — from Iran to North Korea, and from the Dalai Lama’s Himalayas to the ghostly temples of Japan — and asks how we might find that place where earthly cares fall away. (Jeremy Bassetti will be interviewing Iyer for a Travel Writing World podcast, to be published on January 11; Iyer will also be in conversation with the author and podcaster Katherine May in a 5×15 event on January 24.)

Elixir: In the Valley at the End of Time by Kapka Kassabova (Jonathan Cape, £20, February 2)
In her prize-winning books Border and To the Lake, Kassabova travelled through the southern Balkans, looking into the damaging legacies of fences on the ground and in the head. In Elixir, she returns to her native Bulgaria, to explore the valley of the river Mesta, and the connections between people, plants and place. The new book, her publisher says, is “an urgent and unforgettable call to rethink how we live — in relation to one another, to the Earth and to the cosmos”.

Grounded: A Journey into the Landscapes of Our Ancestors by James Canton (Canongate, £18.99, February 2)
Canton, director of the MA in wild writing at the University of Essex, takes us on a journey through England “seeking to see through more ancient eyes, to understand what landscape meant to those that came before us”. If we can recapture our ancestors’ sense of wonder and veneration, he argues, we might do more to protect the places we live in.

River of the Gods by Candice Millard (Swift Press, £20, February 2)
Richard Burton and John Speke set out together in 1857 to find the source of the Nile, but during their search became sworn enemies. In Millard’s account of their story, a third man is given his due: Sidi Mubarak Bombay, who had been born in East Africa, sent as a slave to India, and made his way back after 20 years to forge a living as a guide. Without Bombay and men like him, she argues, neither Englishman would have come close to the headwaters, or perhaps even survived.

Sarn Helen: A Journey Through Wales, Past, Present and Future by Tom Bullough, with illustrations by Jackie Morris (Granta, £16.99, February 2)
Following the route of a Roman road from south to north, the novelist Tom Bullough (who has twice been arrested for his involvement with Extinction Rebellion) explores the political, cultural and mythical history of Wales, and looks into the likely effect on this one small country of a climate crisis that’s engulfing the world.

Stone Will Answer by Beatrice Searle (Harvill Secker, £18.99, February 9)
At 26, Beatrice Searle, who is an artist and stonemason, made a journey of 1,300 miles from Orkney across Norway and back, with a 40-kilo piece of Orkney stone. Her book, the publisher says, “is framed around this journey and the people she encounters along the way, as the stone becomes a talisman of sorts, a bedrock of home, inspired by the ancient ‘Kingship’ stone, St Magnus’s Boat.”

Between the Chalk and the Sea: A journey on foot into the past by Gail Simmons (Headline, £22, February 16)
An antique map in the Bodleian Library in Oxford shows a faint red line threading through towns and villages between Southampton and Canterbury, a line medieval pilgrims are thought to have travelled to the shrine of Thomas Becket. Over four seasons the travel writer Gail Simmons walks this old way, “to rediscover what a long journey on foot offers us today”. 

Glowing Still: A Woman’s Life on the Road by Sara Wheeler (Little Brown, £22, March 16)
Wheeler, whose work has taken her to both Poles (Terra Incognita and The Magnetic North), across Russia and America and through Chile, looks back on a career she embarked on in her twenties, at a time when “role models were scarce in the travel-writing game”. She’ll be journeying, she jokes, from Nubility to Invisibility, leaving Immobility for the next volume.

Real Dorset by Jon Woolcott (Seren, £9.99, April)
This addition to Seren’s “Real… ” series, which takes in places from Swansea to Glasgow, is from one of the team at the Dorset-based publisher Little Toller. Like the rest of the series, Woolcott says, “it’s (very loosely) pyschogeographic”, mixing “history, literature, music, film, riot and rebellion, lost settlements and buildings, standing and lying stones, etc”. He also promises “a dash of memoir and, I hope, a few jokes”.

Goodbye Eastern Europe by Jacob Mikanowski (Oneworld, £20, April 27)
Jacob Mikanowski is a writer and historian based in Portland, Oregon, but comes from a family of Polish-speaking Jews. In Goodbye Eastern Europe he offers “an intimate history of a divided land”. Rather than try to summarise it here, I’ll point you to his 2017 piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

The Granite Kingdom: A Cornish Journey by Tim Hannigan (Head of Zeus, £9.99, May 11)
In The Travel Writing Tribe, Hannigan journeyed from wintry Scotland to the sun-scorched Greek islands, in search of the people intent on summing up place. In his new book he doesn’t stray so far from his birthplace of Penzance. His aim, his publisher says, is to “discover how the real Cornwall, its landscapes, histories, communities and sense of identity, intersect with the many projections and tropes that writers, artists and others have placed upon it”.

  And here’s a couple of books published late in 2022 that I’ve not had a chance to mention before: The Far Land: 200 Years of Murder, Mania and Mutiny in the South Pacific (Icon Books, £20), in which Brandon Presser tells the story of the Bounty mutineers and their modern-day descendants; and Genius Loci (Reaktion Books, £20), in which John Dixon Hunt examines how places gain meaning “through the myriad ways we see, talk about and remember them”.

Update, January 26: Publication of River of the Gods has been delayed until February 16.

My travel books of the year for 2022

“Pink Lake Geometry”, as seen in Heroiske, in the Kherson region, from The Beauty of Ukraine by Yevhen Samuchenko and Lucia Bondar. Picture © Yevhen Samuchenko

Many a wandering spirit, forced to hit the pause button in 2020, got back on the road this year. Raynor Winn, bestselling author of The Salt Path, strapped her backpack on again in May 2021, when lockdown was still blanketing the country “in a sense of inertia”. The health of her husband, Moth, who has an incurable brain disease, was suddenly worsening, and she hoped that nature, which had worked its magic on their trek round the south-west coast, would do so again. In Landlines (Michael Joseph, £20), she tells how they set out to tackle the 200-plus miles of the Cape Wrath Trail in north-west Scotland — and ended up walking (with a little cycling) all the way back to their home in Cornwall, a journey of 1,000 miles. Along the way, they defied doctors, logic, midges, horseflies, rain and heat.

  Landlines is an inspirational story of love and endurance; of trails offering links to ancient times. But it’s clear-eyed, too, on the future we’re shaping: “all the miles of exposed blanket bog, the glens with no trees… it feels as if there’s no way back, we’re standing on the brink”.

  That message resounded through my reading this year. The call of the north also figured large. Sarah Thomas, one of those who answered it, tells her story in The Raven’s Nest (Atlantic, £17.99). She went to the Westfjords of Iceland for the screening of a film she had made and found herself falling first for a landscape, then for a man and his family. For a while she guided tourists from visiting ships. “You must write a book,” many told her. She said she would, while wondering whether she could find words to “trace my path as insider and outsider, criss-crossing, braiding”. That’s exactly what she’s done.

  “The sea is where I’ve always run to,” Doreen Cunningham writes in Soundings (Virago, £18.99). As a young journalist reporting on climate change, she spent time with an Iñupiaq family of whalers in Utqiagvik, the northernmost town of Alaska. When she finds herself a broke single parent, she heads for the water again. With her son, Max, she sets out to follow, by bus, train and ferry, grey whale mothers swimming with their calves on one of the longest of mammalian migrations, from the lagoons of Mexico to the glaciers of the Arctic. Soundings is a wonderful debut: a memoir that’s both frank and fearless, and a plea for the whales to be allowed to live, and die, in peace.

  One of the writers Cunningham cites is the anthropologist Hugh Brody, who spent a decade living and working among the Inuit in northern Canada. His latest book, Landscapes of Silence (Faber, £20), is a hymn to the Arctic, and to the ways of the hunter-gatherers who made him 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.

  The journalist and film-maker Matthew Teller, who grew up in a Jewish family in London (but now considers himself secular), has been visiting Jerusalem since he was 11. It’s a place, he has felt for a while, whose people are seen as less important than the stones that surround them. In Nine Quarters of Jerusalem (Profile Books, £16.99), a sprightly and scholarly “new biography of the old city”, he sets out to put that right. As his title suggests, Jerusalem has many more quarters than the four that appear on maps, and many more sides than the two featured regularly in news headlines. He wants to “amplify the unlistened-to” — to bring us the voices not just of Palestinians and Jews but of Armenians, Africans and Indians, Greek and Syriac communities, Dom Gypsies and Sufi mystics. As he heads on his myth-puncturing way round another corner, through another gate or door, you’ll be flicking to the maps on the inside covers, but you’ll be confident, too, that he’ll emerge with a great story.

  Teller’s book, including notes, is just short of 400 pages. The Saviour Fish, by Mark Weston (Earth Books, £11.99), is half that length, but in it Weston explains an environmental crisis behind failing fish stocks on Lake Victoria, and offers a vivid portrait of daily life over two years on Ukerewe Island, where both witch-doctors and Christian preachers still have a powerful hold.

  Shorter still — 139 pages — is an account by Markiyan Kamysh of another singular place, one that was dangerous long before Russian shells began falling in it earlier this year: the Exclusion Zone around the former nuclear plant of Chornobyl (as it’s spelt in Ukrainian). His father, a scientist, helped shut down the plant, so he knows better than most what the risks are. Yet, in Stalking the Atomic City (Pushkin Press, £12.99), he tells of his countless illegal visits to “this land of tranquillity and frozen time”. Hardly a guide to follow on the ground, but compelling on the page.

  Some of the best non-fiction of recent years has been on travels that were forced rather than longed-for: the journeys of refugees and migrants. In The Naked Don’t Fear the Water, Matthieu Aikins (Fitzcarraldo Editions, £12.99), a Canadian journalist, takes the smuggler’s road out of Afghanistan — not because he has to, but because his driver, translator and friend, Omar, is fleeing the country. Aikins wants to show us the refugee underground from the inside: “the cities of the world connected by a network of paths that measure not physical distance but danger: the risk of getting arrested, stuck in transit, scammed, kidnapped or killed”. It’s a brave book, and a brilliant one.

  And what must the smuggler’s road be like for a child? Imagine you’re a nine-year-old boy being raised by your grandparents and aunts in El Salvador. Your parents have fled a civil war and are living in the United States. Then they tell you on the phone that you’ll soon be taking “a trip” to join them. That trip, everybody reckons, will last two short weeks. Instead, it turns into a nine-week journey of 3,000 miles in the company of strangers. You freeze on a boat, fry in the desert, have guns pointed at you and see the adults who have been helping you get handcuffed. Imagine how that would feel…

  You don’t have to. In his memoir, Solito (Oneworld, £18.99), Javier Zamora, who made that journey in 1999, shows you exactly how it feels. It’s a gripping story, heart-breaking in some passages and heartening in others. Here and there, the prose and its rhythms remind you that you’re reading not the diary of the child but that of the writer he became. On page after page, though, there’s the authentic voice of a nine-year-old boy. The coyotes (traffickers), he says, have told him he’s got to act as if Patricia, a fellow migrant, is his mother: “…in public I call her ‘Mom’, and only to trick soldiers. I know who my real mom is. But it’s funny that they’re both super short, they both have big tempers, and they both like to keep things clean.” Solito (which I’ve written about elsewhere on Deskbound Traveller) is my travel book of the year.

PHOTO BOOKS

Yevhen Samuchenko has won numerous international awards for his photography, but none of his projects has been quite like his new book. The Beauty of Ukraine, with text by Lucia Bondar (teNeues, £39.95), was envisaged as a tribute to the landscapes of his homeland. It has also become a testament to the determination of his publishing team in Kyiv, CP, who had to flee their office after the Russian invasion but, with the support of teNeues, continued working on the book.

  Here — seen mainly from the air — are pink salt lakes, their shapes and patterns reminiscent of the art of Kandinsky or O’Keeffe; the waterfalls and canyons of the Carpathian Mountains; and the beaches of the Black Sea. Many of the places featured have since been severely damaged by bombing and shelling. An image of a woman walking through a field of purple blossom, heavy clouds building above her, has a prescient title: “Before the Storm”.

  Travel features strongly in a superlative collection from the Sony World Photography Awards: 2022 (World Photography Organisation, £38.99) embracing everything from sport, via landscape, to still life. There’s a tribute, with an essay by the historian Simon Schama, to the Canadian Edward Burtynsky, who won an “outstanding contribution to photography” award. Through the terrible beauty of his images of waste and wreckage, Schama says, Burtynsky “calls on us to repair our only earthly home”. There are portfolios on migrants from Latin America, who had to scale fences to get into the US, and on football fans in Prague, who set stepladders against their club’s wall when Covid forced the team to play to an empty stadium.

  Perch that seem to be swimming in a soft turquoise sky rather than water — in pink clouds of an algal bloom that is probably caused by global warming; a giraffe hiding in a national park — from a train that will rattle overhead on a newly built railway: Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 32 (Natural History Museum, £25), the latest showcase for a competition that began in 1965, combines wonders with powerful warnings. The foreword, by the conservationist Chris Packham, is blunt. Most of the natural world, he argues, “is no longer beautiful. It’s very ugly. And we need to see that… we need to look at it — long and hard.”

  My favourite image in Landscape Photographer of the Year: Collection 15 (Ilex, £35) is a glorious one of Chrome Hill in the Peak District, including not only  a rainbow but raking light along the Dragon’s Back. The photographer, Demi Oral, couldn’t believe how things had fallen into place. Jon Brook tells how he had a similar break on a sunshine-and-showers day while trying to capture a steam train on the Glenfinnan Viaduct. “I was lucky,” he says. “Sometimes, the more you plan, the luckier you get.”

  Portrait of Humanity Vol 4 (Hoxton Mini Press, £25) is the fruit of a competition designed “to celebrate that which unites us in a time of division”. Those brought together in its pages include a fur-clad young eagle huntress and her bird in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia, and a suited teacher in New York’s Central Park, marking Latin papers while coaching an athletics team. Both look perfectly at home. Then there are the Syrian toddler and her baby sisters, twins born in a refugee camp in Iraq, and the two activists from the Waorani tribe in the Ecuadorian rainforest, who flew to Glasgow with their baby — their first time on a plane — to call for action on climate at Cop26.

  If you don’t live near an independent bookshop, and you order your books online, I’d recommend you do so where possible through uk.bookshop.org, which supports local bookshops. Interest declared: if you buy through a link from Deskbound Traveller, I will earn a little commission.

Petal power: the image below of a street vendor in Hanoi won first place in the travel category of the Sony World Photography Awards 2022. Picture © Thanh Nguyen Phuc

 

Short list for Stanford travel prize

The short list was announced earlier today for the Edward Stanford Travel Book of the Year*. There are eight books on it:

The Last Overland by Alex Bescoby (Michael O’Mara)
High by Erika Fatland (Quercus)
The Po: An Elegy for Italy’s Longest River by Tobias Jones (Head of Zeus)
The Slow Road to Tehran by Rebecca Lowe (September Publishing)
Crossed Off the Map: Travels in Bolivia by Shafik Meghji (Latin America Bureau)
Walking with Nomads by Alice Morrison (Simon & Schuster)
My Family and Other Enemies by Mary Novakovich (Bradt)
In The Shadow of the Mountain by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado (Octopus).

  The winner will be announced on March 16, 2023, with the winners in other categories of the Edward  Stanford Travel Writing Awards. 

(* Until last year the prize was for the “Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year”. Is it still being run in association with the Authors’ Club? There’s no mention of that on the Stanfords site.  The prize was started by the Rev William Dolman, who sponsored it through the club from 2006 until 2015, when it was rebranded and became part of an awards scheme run by the bookseller Stanfords and named after its founder.)

Updated December 15, 2022
Stanfords told me this week that the Rev William Dolman is no longer able to offer financial support but that it is hoping to find another sponsor. It is currently organising the prize on its own, though Sunny Singh, former chair of the Authors’ Club, will be among judges this year. Stanfords has scaled back its awards scheme to concentrate on four prizes: for travel book of the year, children’s travel book of the year,  new travel writer of the year (a prize it organises with the publisher Bradt) and an outstanding contribution to travel writing.

My travel books of the year

The best books of the year on travel and place? You can find my choice in print today in the travel section of The Daily Telegraph. Here’s a little more on one of them: Solito by Javier Zamora (Oneworld, £18.99).

Life as a journey

Eland, which last week celebrated its 40th anniversary as a travel publisher, has two new books coming later this month. One is Smelling the Breezes (October 20, £14.99, paperback), first published in 1959, in which Ralph and Molly Izzard recount a 300-mile walk down the spine of the Lebanon “with four children, two donkeys and Elias, the family’s gardener, nursemaid and friend”. Ralph Izzard, a note from the publisher points out, was a “heroic” intelligence officer in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and one of Ian Fleming’s role models for James Bond.

The other Eland title is On Travel and the Journey Through Life (October 27, £9.99, hardback): “a pyrotechnic display of cracking one-liners, cynical wordplay and comic observation, mining 3,000 years of global wit and wisdom: from Pliny to Spinoza and from Albert Einstein to Aunt Augusta… it proves that travel — far from being an indulgent escape — is real preparation for the journey through life.” The collection is edited by Eland’s Barnaby Rogerson, with portraits of writers by Kate Boxer.

The same theme, coincidentally, is explored in a new book out today from Rolf Potts, that tireless advocate of independent travel. On Twitter he says that The Vagabond’s Way: 366 Meditations on Wanderlust, Discovery, and the Art of Travel (Ballantine Books, $28.99) “draws on 3,000 years of global travel wisdom to explore how journeys can deepen your life (and how life itself is a journey)”.

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 Salvadoran 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.