Lessons in travel writing from Peter Levi

Some years ago, while editing a monthly books page for Telegraph Travel, I asked some of my favourite writers to choose a favourite travel book. Stanley Stewart, the only writer to have twice won the (now defunct) Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, nominated The Light Garden of the Angel King, by Peter Levi, an account of of a journey through Afghanistan in the early 1970s in search of Hellenic influences; of the remnants of Alexander the Great at the farthest reaches of his empire. One oddity of The Light Garden is that it has one of the earliest appearances in a travel book of Bruce Chatwin —  as Levi’s companion  (“he was wonderfully entertaining and as a liar he outdid the Odyssey”).

More important, for the purposes of Deskbound Traveller, was the lesson Stewart drew from reading Levi:
“[He] reminds me that travel writing need have no boundaries. He moves seamlessly between its different elements, writing about Persian history, an elderly shepherd in the passes of Nuristan, the ruined tomb of Shah Rukh’s mother and a visit to the Kabul zoo as if they are all aspects of the same thing, which of course they are.”

Courtesy of Eland Books, that gatherer-up of the lost and homeless in travel literature, which has just republished The Light Garden, you can read an extract under “New writing” (though in this case maybe it should be “renewed”).


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