Latest Posts

See what's new

On the wing and in the rain with Alexander Frater

I never met Alexander Frater, who died last week just short of his 83rd birthday, but I know that he was both an example and a mentor to younger journalists. I was a huge admirer of his work, and he was an enthusiastic supporter of this website while I was getting it up and running. In an illustrious journalistic career, he contributed to Punch, The New Yorker, The Daily Telegraph and The Observer. At the last, he was chief travel writer for a dozen years, and for three years in a row named travel writer of the year at the British Press Awards.

  I’ve recommended a couple of his books here several times. One is Beyond The Blue Horizon, in which we’re reminded that a passenger was once a glamorous thing to be. Frater’s first flight, on December 31, 1946, a few days before his ninth birthday, was on an Empire flying boat from Sydney to the Fiji Islands. In the mid-1980s, he set out to try to recapture the romance of it, following as closely as possible the route taken by Imperial Airways from London to Brisbane in the 1930s. His booklet of tickets was “probably the largest ever issued on British Airways coupons”.

  Another of his books was on a more surprising subject for a travel writer: rain. Most travellers set out to avoid it; in Chasing the Monsoon, Frater goes looking for it, all the way round India, tramping through mud, slush and puddles, and joining in the rejoicing and sense of renewal that accompany the downpour.

  He kindly let me run an extract from Chasing the Monsoon, on the day in 2013 that Deskbound Traveller went live, to accompany a wonderful portfolio of pictures by GMB Akash. (Incidentally, a print of the very first picture you see on Akash’s website, of boys riding on the roof of a train, hangs over the fireplace in my living room.) Read that extract, and, if you haven’t already, read Chasing the Monsoon and Beyond the Blue Horizon. Even if, like me, you’ve signed up for a flight-free year, you’ll be transported.

Books to watch for in 2020

Books on travel, place and nature to look forward to in 2020 include new works from Kapka Kassabova and Mark O’Connell, plus an anthology of writing on the landscape of Scotland edited by Kathleen Jamie.

January
In his bestseller The Almost Nearly Perfect People, Michael Booth set out to meet the inhabitants of the Scandinavian countries and find out what they make of one another. In his new book, Three Tigers, One Mountain (Jonathan Cape), he travels through China, South Korea and Japan, three Asian tigers that have much to gain from amicable relations and yet still seem intent on brawling.

 

February
Kapka Kassabova’s 2017 book Border, an exploration of the region where Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey run into one another, and of fences both on the ground and in the head, won her several prizes, including the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year award. In To the Lake (Granta), she turns her attention to another crossroads: the mountainous border area of North Macedonia, Albania and Greece. There sit two lakes, Ohrid and Prespa, that have played a central role in her own maternal family and helped shape the history of countless other people.

  Siberia is a land of cold and wind and permafrost; of prison and political exile. It’s one of pianos, too, which in the 19th century, the travel writer Sophy Roberts says, carried “the melodies of Europe’s musical salons a long way from the cultural context of their birth”. In her first book, The Lost Pianos of Siberia (Doubleday), she heads there in search of an instrument worthy of a brilliant pianist. What began as an eccentric idea becomes an obsession, taking her from Kamchatka to the Urals, from the Arctic to the Kuril Islands on Russia’s Pacific edge.

  C J Schüler is the author of three illustrated histories of cartography, Mapping the World, Mapping the City and Mapping the Sea and Stars, and co-author of the best-selling Traveller’s Atlas. In Along the Amber Route: St Petersburg to Venice (Sandstone Press), he charts the origins of amber, the myths and legends that have grown around it, and the dazzling artefacts crafted from it and traded along the way. He also reflects on the route’s violent history through the centuries, not least his own family’s experience of persecution and flight.

  Socrates and Kant may have been home-birds, but not all philosophers followed their example. George Berkeley fought off wolves in a French mountain pass; Isaac Barrow battled pirates while sailing for Turkey. Emily Thomas, professor in philosophy at Durham University, is equally keen on hitting the road. In The Meaning of Travel: Philosophers Abroad (OUP), she draws on her own trips while considering how we can think more deeply about travel. Can meeting unfamiliar peoples tell us anything about human minds? Is it ethical to visit the Great Barrier Reef when its corals are withering?

 

March
Tim Dee’s last book, Landfill, was about gulls, and how, throughout human history, they “have lived in our slipstream, following trawlers, ploughs, dustcarts”. In Greenery: Journeys in Springtime (Jonathan Cape), Dee himself is the follower, tracking migratory birds from South Africa to northern Scandinavia. Along the way, his publisher says, “We read of other determined spring-seekers: DH Lawrence and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. We hear from a Sámi reindeer herder, a barn-dwelling swallow-devotee, an Egyptian taxi driver, a chronobiologist in arctic Norway. There are bears and boars and bog-bodies too.”

  In The Accidental Countryside (Guardian Faber), the naturalist Stephen Moss travels from Shetland’s Iron Age stone structures to London’s skyscrapers, and from railway cuttings to stately-home gardens, seeking out the hidden corners of Britain where wildlife survives against the odds.

 

April
Mark O’Connell is a journalist and essayist. He won the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize for To be a Machine, an exploration of transhumanism, a movement that suggests we can and should exploit technology to “improve” the human body, with the ultimate aim of making ourselves immortal. He is also the father of two young children, and constantly worrying over what sort of world he’s brought them into. Notes from an Apocalypse (Granta) is the result of a series of what he calls “perverse pilgrimages” to places where the end seems closest. He meets environmentalists fighting the ravages of climate change; billionaire entrepreneurs dreaming of life on Mars; and right-wing conspiracists yearning for a lost American idyll.

  While Lamorna Ash was working as an intern for the Times Literary Supplement, she wrote a piece about the fishing trade in Newlyn, where she had done a month’s fieldwork while studying for an MA in social and cultural anthropology. It so impressed Michael Fishwick, publishing director at Bloomsbury, that he signed her up to write a book. The result is Dark, Salt, Clear: Life in a Cornish Fishing Town. Fishwick told The Bookseller: “It reminded me a little of taking on the young William Dalrymple after reading about his journey to Xanadu in The Times. I think this is going to be a very special book about a very special world, reminiscent perhaps of Dalrymple’s own City of Djinns.”

  The journalist Jini Reddy was born in Wimbledon, to South African-born parents of Indian descent, but grew up in Montreal. Themes of identity and belonging are among those she tackles in Wanderland (Bloomsbury), in which she aims to connect with “the magical in the [British] landscape”.

 

May
Gavin Francis has somehow made time to write four books while practising as a doctor, including True North and Empire Antarctica (he spent 14 months as base-camp doctor at a British research station). In Island Dreams (Canongate), he “blends stories of his own travels with great voyages from literature and philosophical exploration, and examines the place of islands and isolation in our collective consciousness”.

  The Passenger is a new series of paperbacks from Europa Editions (publisher in Britain of Berezina by Sylvain Tesson) and the Italian publisher Iperborea that “travels the world to carry the best writing back from the countries it visits”. It will feature not only essays, investigative journalism and reportage but also photography and art.

  Volumes 1 and 2, to be published in May, will focus on Japan and Greece. The Passenger: Japan will feature writers including Banana Yoshimoto, declaring her love for her district of Tokyo, and Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia editor of The Times and author of Ghosts of the Tsunami. The Passenger: Greece will include Andrew Anthony on the long-living residents of the island of Ikaria, and Rachel Howard on her (ultimately futile) attempts to negotiate Greek bureaucracy. Volumes on Brazil and Turkey are scheduled for the autumn.

 

August
Antlers of Water (Canongate), which is being edited by the poet Kathleen Jamie, is a collection of prose, poetry and photography on the Scottish landscape. Contributors will include Amy Liptrot, Malachy Tallack, Chitra Ramaswamy and Gavin Francis (see above).

   Jamie says the book will bring together “contemporary Scottish writers who attend to the living world around them. The natural world is not a backdrop to their human concern; it is their human concern. They write out of fear, anger, joy and chiefly love of their homeland and fellow creatures. Writing on nature and environment has never been so urgent or so necessary, as we work out how to face the future not only of Scotland but of the planet.”

Novel takes on ‘the spirit of a place’

Deskbound Traveller is dedicated to writing about travel and place in all its forms, but non-fiction tends to dominate, because reviewing it is part of my day job. Fiction tends to be something I read for pleasure, without scribbling notes. I am, though, particularly keen on novels that, in line with the chief criterion for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, “evoke the spirit of a place”.

  I’ve already mentioned The Overstory by Richard Powers. Here are a few others I’d strongly recommend from my reading this year (all of them first published in 2018)…

  The Valley at the Centre of the World by Malachy Tallack (Canongate) is a story of crofting and community life in modern-day Shetland. Its characters are as solidly realised as the fields, the burn and the valley, and Tallach is particularly good on the relationships between the rooted and the recently arrived.

  All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison (Bloomsbury) vividly summons a period as well as a place: the inter-war years in rural Suffolk. But it’s a novel, too, very much for our times, with its warning of the ways in which patriotism can be corrupted into something much nastier.

  Middle England by Jonathan Coe (Penguin) was recently short-listed for the Costa Novel Award. If I were in a book club, I’d have been recommending we read it in the run-up to the election. It’s quite a trick to sum up the state of a country divided by the Brexit referendum and yet still offer a few laughs…

Primers on an overheated planet

I’ve flown only once this year, and I’ve promised (with others on Flight Free UK) not to fly at all in 2020. An odd thing to do when you’ve made much of your living for years as a travel writer and editor. But I’m not alone, even in my trade, in trying to fly less. Several of my colleagues have done likewise. We’ve all decided that we don’t want to encourage readers — even indirectly — to burn more oil at a time when everyone should be burning less.

  A strange time it is, when the president of the United States is denying that climate change is as dangerous as his own officials tell him, and yet an airline is asking potential passengers to consider reducing their carbon footprint — by avoiding flying. KLM is doing that right now on its own website. Why? Because, it says, “aviation is far from sustainable today, even if we have been — and are — working hard to improve every aspect of our business”. 

  In a report last October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which brings together leading scientists, gave warning that we have only a dozen years to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. “It’s a line in the sand, and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now,” said Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the working group on impacts.

  The indicators haven’t improved since then, but governments still don’t seem to have got the message. The UN gathering in Madrid, which finished yesterday with a compromise deal, hardly suggests a collective resolve to save the planet.

  Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has been attending climate talks since the early 1990s, told The Washington Post: “You have the science crystal on where we need to go. You have the youth and others stepping up around the world in the streets pressing for action. It’s like we’re in a sealed vacuum chamber in here, and no one is perceiving what is happening out there — what the science says and what people are demanding.” 

   Having been slow to tune in myself, I’m now trying to catch up. I’ve read almost as much on climate this year as on travel, so I’m in a position to recommend a few primers. Boris Johnson, in his victory speech last week, promised “colossal new investments in infrastructure and science, using our technological advantages to make this country the cleanest, greenest on Earth”, so I’m sure he’s already ordered a copy of each of the books below for every member of his cabinet.

  First, The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells (Penguin), which spells out how climate change is going to touch every aspect of our lives, from the food we eat to the places we live in (or can no longer live in) and the stories we tell ourselves. It shows how, through “ignorance, then indolence, then indifference”, we’ve made for ourselves “a gaseous suicide, a running car in a sealed garage”.

  Nathaniel Rich, in Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change (Picador), explains how, in the 1980s, our leaders squandered opportunities to lessen the damage. His book began life as an article for The New York Times Magazine, which you can still read online. 

  Then there’s There Is No Planet B by Mike Berners-Lee (Cambridge University Press). In this handbook for what he calls “the make-or-break years”, he sets out what we can and must do now. He makes it clear that systemic change is essential, and that governments and industry must lead it. But he also encourages individuals to do their bit: “We need to think beyond the immediate and direct effect of our actions and ask more about the ripples that they send out, and how the actions of one person, company or country might get multiplied rather than muffled…”

  In the video below, which went online a couple of weeks ago, Professor Berners-Lee explains some of the themes he tackles in the book. He also touches on developments that worry him, and on others that give him hope.

An Atlantic crossing — but first, a confession

On this date in 1941, Graham Greene, en route to West Africa, wrote:

Into Belfast. Little white lighthouses on stilts; a buoy that seems to have a table tied to it; a sunken ship right up in the dock. Cranes like skeleton foliage in a steely winter. The flicker of green flame in the bellies of building ships. Hundreds of dockyard workers stop altogether to see one small ship come in.

  Endless impatient waiting for the immigration officer to come on board. Why the anxiety to get ashore in so dull a place? It is the cruise-spirit perhaps. I thought it just as well to go to the Confession before the Atlantic. This hideous Catholic Church difficult to find in Protestant Belfast. At the Presbytery a tousled housekeeper tried to send me away when I asked for a confession. ‘This is no time for confession,’ trying to shut the door in my face. The dreadful parlour hung with pious pictures as unlived-in as a dentist’s waiting-room, and then the quiet, nice young priest who called me ‘son’ and whose understanding was of the simplest. In the same street the pious repository selling Woodbines from under the counter to old women.

  In the evening a dozen and a half Galway oysters and a pint and a half of draught Guinness at the Globe. Then back to the ship.

  • From Convoy to West Africa by Graham Greene (1941). This passage is anthologised in A Traveller’s Year: 365 Days of Travel Writing in Diaries, Journals and Letters, compiled by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison (Frances Lincoln).
  • The writer Nicholas Shakespeare, at the end of a talk at a Graham Greene Festival in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, in 2013, reported a different version of what happened when Greene met the priest. That account was passed on to him by John Leahy, a diplomat who in the mid-1970s served as Under-Secretary of State in Northern Ireland. Leahy was sent to meet Greene after the writer asked if there was anything he could do to help end the Troubles.

Short list for Stanford Dolman prize

The short list was announced yesterday for the Stanford Dolman prize, which Stanfords runs in association with the Authors’ Club, and which is now part of a scheme named after the bookseller’s founder: the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards. The winner will be announced on February 26. The six books are:

Last Days in Old Europe by Richard Bassett (Allen Lane)
Epic Continent by Nicholas Jubber (John Murray)
Underland by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton)
The Bells of Old Tokyo by Anna Sherman (Picador)
On the Plain of Snakes by Paul Theroux (Hamish Hamilton)
Lotharingia by Simon Winder (Picador).

Africa, America and slavery’s fierce undertow

Ghana, once a hub of the transatlantic slave trade, is encouraging descendants of enslaved Africans to visit, and to see the country as their “home”. The novelist Jacqueline Woodson, with her family, was among those who responded to the invitation. In The New York Times, she writes: “There is nowhere in this country where the eye can land and the body not feel, at once, both a deep pain and an immense joy.”

The traveller you don’t want to be

I’ve been thinking about a book I read as long ago as May; one I’m now wishing I’d included in my roundup of travel books of the year, even if it’s something of a radical departure from that genre.

  Travel is something to plan for, to anticipate, to savour once it’s under way. Unless, of course, it’s been forced on you, and you’re homeless, stateless and in fear of your life. In The Ungrateful Refugee (Canongate, £16.99) Dina Nayeri, who fled Iran at eight with her mother and brother, eventually finding asylum in the United States, combines her own experience of the refugee journey with reporting from today’s camps. There, she says, it takes no talent to coax out stories, for everyone wants to talk. It does, though, take talent to write them, and Nayeri, who is the author of two novels, has it in abundance.

  While doing research at a camp in Greece, she asks herself why, when she has a home of her own now in London, and a family, she’s returned to such a “wretched limbo”. She answers:

  I’ve come because the world is turning its back on refugees, because America is no longer America and Europe is going the same way: these once-Christian nations have abandoned duty in favour of entitlement and tribal instinct. I’m here because I have a skill, born out of my own idle refugee days. I’ve watched people when they’re ordered to do nothing and I know just how life reasserts itself, like that first bubble in still water before the whole pot comes to a boil. I’m here to make a few stories leap out from the tepid simmer of information and to carry those stories to the West, a mother who once adopted us, the exiles and outcasts, and now needs us to intervene as callouses harden fast around her heart.

  And there is another reason too. Now that I have a daughter, it’s time I made sense of my own story and identity so that she can be certain of hers.

  I have reservations about Nayeri’s mixing of reportage and the techniques of fiction (she declares at the outset that she brought the escape stories of others to life “using sensory details that I found and imagined”), but The Ungrateful Refugee is still an urgent and important book.

Marsden talks to ‘The Island Review’

Philip Marsden, whose The Summer Isles was one of my travel books of the year, answers questions from The Island Review in an interview that went online today.

Travel books of 2019

 

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, 2014 — from ‘Magnum Streetwise’ © DAVID ALAN HARVEY/MAGNUM PHOTOS

I’m pining a wee bit for the old days. Days when I was a raw reporter in his twenties in London and the only reading recommendations I felt I needed to note — apart from those from friends and colleagues — were in the books pages of The Observer and The Sunday Times. Days when I first started travelling for work, and found the best writing on wherever I happened to be on arrival there, in a bookshop. (I’m thinking, particularly, of Watermen by Randall S Peffer, a vivid and salty account of a year spent with the fishermen of the Chesapeake Bay on their graceful sailing boats, the skipjacks. Key “Watermen” and “Maryland” into a search engine, and Peffer’s book will pop up near the top of the results. I bought my copy on the spot, on the shore, in — if I remember rightly — the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St Michael’s.)

  These days, each time I go online I find a tweet or link that suggests I should be adding to an already tottering to-be-read pile. I can’t find time to read the pieces I’ve bookmarked in the virtual world, let alone the books they might take me to in the real one. (I’m mindful, though, that it was in cyberspace that I was directed to what turned out to be two of my favourite books of last year. One was Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris. The other was Chesapeake Requiem by Earl Swift — which, as the title suggests, is concerned with the same territory as Peffer’s book, but in more dangerous times.)

  All of which is a roundabout way of saying that, while I try to keep up with the best in new writing on travel and place, I don’t always manage it. This year there was a blizzard of promising books in the autumn. I have to give priority to books I’ve been commissioned and will be paid to review, even if they’re not always the ones I would choose to cover. Others go back on the TBR pile.

  In print at the weekend (and online tooThe Daily Telegraph published my choice of the best travel writing this year, plus picture books that I think would make good Christmas presents. I filed my roundup on November 12. By that stage, there were a lot of books I still hadn’t had a chance to read (and which I’ve since had time only to dip into). Among them were On The Plain of Snakes by Paul Theroux (Hamish Hamilton) and Pravda Ha Ha by Rory MacLean (Bloomsbury).

  Among them, too, were new titles in translation by writers whose work I had hugely enjoyed in the past: Berezina: On Three Wheels from Moscow to Paris Chasing Napoleon’s Epic Fail by Sylvain Tesson, winner in 2014 of what was then the Dolman prize with Consolations of the ForestBlack Earth: A Journey Through Ukraine by Jens Mühling (Haus), whose A Journey into Russia was short-listed the following year for the rebranded Stanford Dolman prize; and So It Goes: Travels in the Aran Isles, Xian and places in between by Nicholas Bouvier (Eland).

  Then there were a few books I had to excuse myself from reviewing on the basis that I know the author. One was Sara Wheeler’s Mud and Stars: Travels in Russia with Pushkin and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age (Jonathan Cape). I’m looking forward to that, especially after reading Julian Evans’s piece in The Daily Telegraph.

  Of the books I did manage to read, these are my favourites…

Underland by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton, £20)
Over a series of books, Macfarlane has travelled from the peaks (Mountains of the Mind) to the depths, in a sustained and sensitive mapping of the relationship “between landscape and the human heart”. Underland sees him tunnelling into the world beneath our feet and what we’ve made of it, physically, with mines and tombs, and metaphorically, with myths and legends. It takes him from Bronze Age funeral chambers in Somerset, via the catacombs of Paris, to a nuclear bunker in Finland. It’s a book that expands our notions of what constitutes landscape. It’s one full of wonders — in Kulusuk, Greenland, he celebrates “the wildest land I have ever seen” — but also of warnings of the harm we are doing in this overheated age of the Anthropocene.

The Summer Isles by Philip Marsden (Granta, £20)
When the anthropologists arrive, so the saying goes, the gods depart. There are places, though, where myth and magic held out; where phantom islands on the horizon and fairies under the earth endured for longer. Among them are the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland, which Philip Marsden (who has a degree in anthropology) explores from the sea in this marvellous book. Like one of those doorways so popular in Irish myth, it’s a portal not just to other places but to other times. It’s a reminder, as he puts it, that “the imagination is the oddest of human faculties, and also perhaps the greatest”. Incidentally, The Summer Isles happens to be the best book I’ve read on a sailing trip since Jonathan Raban’s Coasting (1986).

The Last Whalers by Doug Bock Clark (John Murray, £20)
Clark, a 30-year-old American, lived for a year among the Lamalerans, a tribe of 1,500 on a backwater Indonesian island who have survived for half a millennium by hunting sperm whales with bamboo harpoons from hand-carved boats. In this wonderfully assured debut, he shows what modernisation looks like when it arrives with the speed of a tsunami, in the shape of motorboats, drift-netting, electricity and mobile phones. It’s a rich, novelistic account based on diligent reporting, in which the story of the tribe is told through the triumphs and trials of individuals — and the author, in the manner of the great Norman Lewis, renders himself a semi-invisible man.

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie (Sort Of Books, £12.99)
Kathleen Jamie is a writer who enjoys teasing out unlikely links. In her previous essay collection, the prize-winning Sightlines, she explored the liver as a landscape through a microscope in a hospital pathology lab. In this one, she joins archaeologists at sites in Alaska and Orkney in their “daily wrestle with the earth”, and mines her own memories — of family and of youthful travels — to see what surfaces and what connects us to our past. It’s a deep and rewarding dig. As with archaeological sites, it’s also layered. Having read it first in proof, I opened it again when a finished copy arrived. It repays re-reading.

Elsewhere by Rosita Boland (Doubleday Ireland/Penguin, £14.99)
Rosita Boland is a feature writer for The Irish Times and was journalist of the year in Ireland for 2018. Before she was a reporter, she was a wanderer, travelling the world between short-term jobs, and she still takes unpaid leave to respond to what the Germans call fernweh, an ache for distant places, which has taken her to Australia and Antarctica, Peru and Pakistan. She has an ache, too, to have a child, which has never been answered. In Elsewhere, she writes beautifully and movingly of three decades on the road, and the consolations she has found there.

Horizon by Barry Lopez (Bodley Head, £25)
“Travel/Natural History,” ventures the publisher’s classification. Well, those are part of it. Horizon encompasses both the conquistadors’ lust for gold and the mining of Big Data; its author’s searches on the ice shelf for meteorites and in the desert for hominid fossils. It’s an angry book about the “throttled Earth” and what we Earthlings have done to it (though there’s no acknowledgement of Lopez’s own carbon footprint). It’s life-affirming, too, in its depictions of the wonders that remain. It runs to 512 pages plus 60 of notes and index, which is a lot for our distractible times, but you’ll find it a lot smarter than your phone.

A Savage Dreamland: Journeys in Burma by David Eimer (Bloomsbury, £20)
In the brochures, Burma (Myanmar) is a country of “temple-strewn landscapes” and “enduring tribal traditions”. But it is also one with more than 30 ethnic armies and militias, whose battles with the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military, are, as Eimer puts it, “the longest-running civil wars in modern history”. He listens to people of as many factions as he can in a disunited nation, explaining wonderfully well why Burma today is both compelling and combustible. If George Orwell, who served as a police officer in Burma in the 1920s, could read it, he would surely be impressed by this choral-voiced account of a country where so many, for so long, have been silenced.

Around the World in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh (Bloomsbury, £20)
In the age of high-speed rail, with a wooomph! on the tracks and a blur through the windows, you might think there’s little to savour and less to say about long-distance train travel. You’d be wrong: as Monisha Rajesh triumphantly demonstrates, there’s life yet in both the trip and the telling. One of her best passages is on Hiroshima, a few of whose residents survived the immediate after-effects of the atomic bomb of 1945 by fleeing on trains. She finds trains life-enhancing as well as life-saving. In Thailand, on swapping food with a Dutch family, she’s told: “We have a word… gezellig, which means that there are no boundaries and that everyone is sharing and getting along… like we are a train family.” Gezellig resounds through Rajesh’s pages.

 

PICTURE BOOKS

Wild asses in a wild land: a group of kiangs stride out after a snowfall in search of grass in the Kumukuli Desert on the edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau — from ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ © SHANGZHEN FAN

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 29 (Natural History Museum, £25)
The Travel Photographer of the Year and Landscape Photographer of the Year competitions are both taking a break from publishing a book in 2019, but another dependable British-based showcase is open as usual. The 100 pictures between the covers, chosen from 48,130 entries from a record-breaking 100 countries, offer both the richness of the natural world and reminders (poisoned lions, logged forests) of its fragility. Rosamund Kidman Cox, chair of the judges, notes significant increases this year in entries from Tajikistan, Mongolia and China and in outstanding pictures of animal behaviour. The moment captured by the winner, Yongqing Bau, a Tibetan from the Chinese province of Qinghai, is as arresting for the viewer as it was for one of the subjects: a marmot realising that there’s no escape from a fox.

Water: A Journey Through The Element by Rudi Sebastian (te Neues, £29.95)
For the past few years the German photographer Rudi Sebastian has been travelling the world intent on capturing water in all its forms: solid, liquid and gas. It’s a journey that has taken him from Costa Rica to China; from seasonal lakes between sand dunes in Brazil — the Lençois Maranhenses — to the rapidly melting Arctic home of the polar bear; from the Bay of Cadiz, where gentle, non-intrusive cultivation has helped to increase biodiversity, to Xiapu, in China, where farming of fish and seafood is on an industrial scale. There’s a terrible beauty to his pictures of the last, and, elsewhere, images that recall the work of Monet and Turner. An artist very much in his element.

Magnum Streetwise edited by Stephen McLaren (Thames & Hudson, £28)
Street photography — “candid photography in the public realm”, as McLaren defines it in this glorious celebration — has been part of the repertoire of Magnum since its beginnings in 1947. Indeed, one of the agency’s founders, Henri Cartier-Bresson, had pioneered it from 1930, exploiting the possibilities offered by the newly available Leica and a standard lens on trips around Europe and Mexico. “Street” can embrace market and museum, beach as well as bus. Four cities have exerted a particular pull: Paris, New York, London and Tokyo. For each, McLaren looks into themes and favourite hunting grounds, and sees how the approach of photographers has changed as the city has evolved.

Portrait of Humanity (Hoxton Mini Press, £22.95)
What do two centenarians, cuddling on a plump sofa in their Los Angeles apartment, share with a a newborn refugee, 30 seconds old, howling in its mother’s arms in a refugee camp in Tanzania? That’s the question this book, with 200 images from more than 65 countries, asks you to ponder. It’s a follow-up to Portrait of Britain, and a collaboration between 1854 Media — publisher of The British Journal of Photography — and the picture agency Magnum. As Lucy Davies of The Telegraph arts desk puts it in her introduction, it’s “a crowd-sourcing of the climate, a map of global fears and wants, and as much a reflection of the things we have in common as the things that make us different”.

Northwest by Alex Nail (£36 plus p&p, via alexnail.com)
The only bearable way to be on top of a peak for a 4.30am sunrise is to sleep on the mountain,” says Alex Nail. That’s how most of the images in his book were made. There’s no trace of the effort that went into them; of his endurance of blizzards in winter and midges in summer. But his love of the mountains and lochans of the Northwest Highlands is evident on every page. His approach might be considered old-fashioned, but that doesn’t bother him. His aim is to recreate, as far as he can, what he saw in front of him, rather than to reinterpret it: “photography can be more than art; reality is powerful. Photography can transport the viewer.” His pictures certainly do.

Through My Eyes: Journey of a Wildlife Veterinarian by Dr Michael D Kock (IWVS Africa, £75 plus p&p via through-my-eyes.co.za)
Michael Kock describes himself as “a large-landscape, no-fences, wilderness-focused wildlife veterinarian”. Through My Eyes is a remarkable photographic record of a working life that has taken him, over 40-plus years, to four continents and 13 African countries, including his native South Africa. There are as many images of people as of wilderness and wildlife, for his work goes far beyond darting an elephant, roping a giraffe or relocating a hippo. And the first step in conserving a wild landscape, he argues, is to give the humans who share it an interest in being good stewards. His book, running to 600 pages and 1,400 photographs, would have benefited from an edit, but it’s still a compelling account of a singular day job.