It is almost summer, and it feels like it with rising temperatures and almost a drought, so it must be time for this challenge once again. Run by Cathy at 746 Books, it is a challenge for blogger and anyone else to try and read through 20 books that are on their TBR. Last year when I took part, I had a few themes for the books that I was reading for it, Wainwright Prize, water, mountains and Sicily and the odd travel book included. I managed to read 18 in the end, which is close but oh so annoying!
This year I am going to link it to another very long term personal challenge that I have been doing called, The World From My Armchair. The intention is to read a non-fiction travel book from every country in the world. There is more about it here and follow the hashtag on Twitter: #WorldFromMyArmChair . I also chose travel because of the times we are living in, we had been aiming to go on holiday in August with four other families and it is not going to happen. The world that had been open to all that could is now closed as countries deal with the pandemic. Thankfully we can travel all around the globe from the comfort of our homes. So here is my list of books that I am intending (and hoping) to read:
In Bangkok, Alec Waugh has created the most fluent, truthful and affectionate portrait not only of the city, but also of the dynasty and culture which created it. Cutting through confusion and veiled mystery, he unravels the plots, coups, wars, assassinations, invasions and countercoups of three hundred years of history as if they were this evening’s street gossip. This loving description of the genius, fascination and enduring vitality of Thailand is told with Waugh’s customary delight in life and sensual appreciation. The story is brought up-to-date with an afterword by Bruce Palling, former Times correspondent in Thailand.
A cult classic, The Way of the World is one of the most beguiling travel books ever written. Reborn from the ashes of a Pakistani rubbish heap, it tells of a friendship between a writer and an artist, forged on an impecunious, life-enhancing journey from Serbia to Afghanistan in the 1950s. On one level it is a candid description of a road journey, on another a meditation on travel as a journey towards the self, all written by a sage with a golden pen and a wide, infectious smile. It is published here for the first time in English with the Vernet drawings which are such a dynamic part of its whole.
Somalia is one of the world’s most desolate, sun-scorched lands, inhabited by independent-minded and fierce tribesmen. It was here that Gerald Hanley spent the Second World War, charged with preventing bloodshed between feuding tribes at a remote outstation. Rations were scarce, pay infrequent and his detachment of native soldiers near-mutinous.
In these extreme conditions seven British officers committed suicide, but Hanley describes the period as ‘the most valuable time’ of his life. He comes to understand the Somalis’ love of fighting and to admire their contempt for death. ‘Of all the races of Africa,’ he says, ‘there cannot be one better to live among than the most difficult, the proudest, the bravest, the vainest, the most merciless, the friendliest: the Somalis’.
At the age of 48, Moritz Thomsen sold his pig farm in California and joined the Peace Corps. For the next four years he lived in an impoverished village on the coast of Ecuador; its inhabitants were so poor that six chickens represented wealth, and cigarettes were bought one at a time, on credit. Thomsen discovered how difficult it was for an outsider to help, and most of his attempts were a mixture of tragedy and farce. This did not prevent him from entering into the hearts and minds of an alien people, becoming ‘just another person in a poor village, working out my own problems and frustrations, making friends and enemies like one more citizen of the town.’
For two years in the early 1980s Monica Connell lived as a paying guest of Kalchu and Chola in the Nepalese Himalayan village of Talphi. Gradually she was accepted as a member of the family, sharing its joys and sorrows as well as taking part in its various tasks from mud-plastering the house to rice planting in the terraced fields. The village, in the remote Jumla region of western Nepal, was ten days walk from the nearest road, and its only contact with the outside world was through trading expeditions: north to Tibet for salt, and south to the Indian border for cotton and metalware.
Travelling through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the twilight of the French colonial regime, Norman Lewis witnessed these ancient civilisations as they were before the terrible devastation of the Vietnam war. He creates a portrait of traditional societies struggling to retain their integrity in the embrace of the West. He meets emperors and slaves, brutal plantation owners and sympathetic French officers trapped by the economic imperatives of the colonial experiment.
From tribal animists to Viet-Minh guerrillas, he witnesses this heart-breaking struggle over and over, leaving a vital portrait of a society on the brink of catastrophic change.
Modern-day Cuba. Disabled by an American blockade, with a Communist system that has delivered atrocious standards of living, Cuba looks and feels like a nation at the end of a long, hard war.
Award-winning journalist Peter Millar jumps aboard a railway system that was once the pride of Latin America – and is now a crippled casualty case – to undertake a railway odyssey the length of Cuba in the dying days of the Castro regime. Starting in the ramshackle but romantic capital of Havana, once dominated by the US mafia, he travels with ordinary Cubans, sharing anecdotes, life stories and political opinions, to the far end of the island, where it meets a more modern blot on American history, the Guantanamo naval base and detention camp. Millar may not have all the answers but he asks the right questions on an anarchic entertaining and often comic adventure.
This is a journey everyone will want to read about – but no one in their right mind would want to follow!
Bitter Lemons of Cyprus is Lawrence Durrell’s unique account of his time in Cyprus, during the 1950s Enosis movement for freedom of the island from British colonial rule. Winner of the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, it is a document at once personal, poetic and subtly political – a masterly combination of travelogue, memoir and treatise.
‘He writes as an artist, as well as a poet; he remembers colour and landscape and the nuances of peasant conversation . . . Eschewing politics, it says more about them than all our leading articles . . . In describing a political tragedy it often has great poetic beauty.’ Kingsley Martin, New Statesman
‘Durrell possesses exceptional qualifications. He speaks Greek fluently; he has a wide knowledge of modern Greek history, politics and literature; he has lived in continental Greece and has spent many years in other Greek islands . . . His account of this calamity is revelatory, moving and restrained. It is written in the sensitive and muscular prose of which he is so consummate a master.’ Harold Nicolson, Observer
It had never been done before. Not in 4000 years of Japanese recorded history had anyone followed the Cherry Blossom Front from one end of the country to the other. Nor had anyone hitchhiked the length of Japan. But, heady on sakura and sake, Will Ferguson bet he could do both. The resulting travelogue is one of the funniest and most illuminating books ever written about Japan. And, as Ferguson learns, it illustrates that to travel is better than to arrive.
How does a young City lawyer end up as the People’s Lawyer of the fourth-smallest country in the world, 18,000 kilometres from home?
We’ve all thought about getting off the treadmill, turning life on its head and doing something worthwhile. Philip Ells dreamed of turquoise seas, sandy beaches and palm trees, and he found these in the tiny Pacific island state of Tuvalu. But neither his Voluntary Service Overseas briefing pack nor his legal training could prepare him for what happened there.
He learned to deal with rapes, murders, incest, the unforgivable crime of pig theft and to look a shark in the eye. But he never dared ask the octogenarian Tuvaluan chief why he sat immobilised by a massive rock permanently resting on his groin.Well, you wouldn’t, would you?
This is the story of a UK lawyer colliding with a Pacific island culture. The fallout is moving, dramatic, bewildering and often hilarious.
Unafraid of a challenge, Lois Pryce began the kind of adventure most of us could only ever dream of. She put on her sparkly crash helmet, armed herself with maps and a baffling array of visas, and got on her bike. Destination: Cape Town – and the small matter of tackling the Sahara, war-torn Angola and the Congo Basin along the way – this feisty independent woman’s grand trek through the Dark Continent of Africa is the definitive motorcycling adventure.
Colourful and hilarious, Red Tape and White Knuckles is an action-packed tale about following your dreams that will have you packing your bags and jetting off into the sunset on your own adventure before you know it.
‘I heard the rustle again, too close and too real to ignore. I clutched the flashlight, stuck my head out of the mosquito net… and found myself face-to-face with a jaguar.’
Four travellers meet in Bolivia and set off into the Amazon rainforest on an expedition to explore places tourists only dream of seeing. But what begins as the adventure of a lifetime quickly becomes a struggle for survival when they get lost in the wilds of the jungle.
The group splits up after disagreements, and Yossi and his friend try to find their own way back without a guide. But when a terrible rafting accident separates them, Yossi is forced to survive for weeks alone. Stranded without a knife, map or survival training, he must improvise in order to survive. He wonders if he will make it back alive.
After years on the outside, Bulgaria has finally made it into the EU club, but beyond the cliches about undrinkable plonk, cheap property, and assassins with poison-tipped umbrellas, the country remains a largely unknown quantity. Born on the muddy outskirts of Sofia, Kapka Kassabova grew up under Communism, got away just as soon as she could, and has loved and hated her homeland in equal measure ever since. In this illuminating and entertaining memoir, Kapka revisits Bulgaria and her own muddled relationship to it, travelling back to the scenes of her childhood, sampling its bizarre tourist sites, uncovering its centuries’ old history of bloodshed and blurred borders, and capturing the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of her own and her country’s past.
Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani compellingly revealed a hidden world of Southern Greece and its past. Its northern counterpart takes the reader among Sarakatsan shepherds, the monasteries of Meteora and the villages of Krakora, among itinerant pedlars and beggars, and even tracks down at Missolonghi a pair of Byron’s slippers. Roumeli is not on modern maps: it is the ancient name for the lands from the Bosphorus to the Adriatic and from Macedonia to the Gulf of Corinth. But it is the perfect, evocative name for the Greece that Fermor captures in writing that carries throughout his trademark vividness of description. But what is more, the pictures of people, traditions and landscapes that he creates on the page are imbued with an intimate understanding of Greece and its history.
In this, his first book, Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts his tales of a personal odyssey to the lands of the Traveller’s Tree – a tall, straight-trunked tree whose sheath-like leaves collect copious amounts of water. He made his way through the long island chain of the West Indies by steamer, aeroplane and sailing ship, noting in his records of the voyage the minute details of daily life, of the natural surroundings and of the idiosyncratic and distinct civilisations he encountered amongst the Caribbean Islands. From the ghostly Ciboneys and the dying Caribs to the religious eccentricities like the Kingston Pocomaniacs and the Poor Whites in the Islands of the Saints, Patrick Leigh Fermor recreates a vivid world, rich and vigorous with life.
During the years he spent among the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq-long before they were almost completely wiped out by Saddam Hussein-Wilfred Thesiger came to understand, admire, and share a way of life that had endured for many centuries. Travelling from village to village by canoe, he won acceptance by dispensing medicine and treating the sick. In this account of a nearly lost civilization, he pays tribute to the hospitality, loyalty, courage, and endurance of the people, and describes their impressive reed houses, the waterways and lakes teeming with wildlife, the herding of buffalo and hunting of wild boar, moments of tragedy, and moments of pure comedy in vivid, engaging detail.
Over the years the American writer Emma Larkin has spent travelling in Burma, also known as Myanmar, she’s come to know all too well the many ways this brutal police state can be described as “Orwellian.” The life of the mind exists in a state of siege in Burma, and it long has. But Burma’s connection to George Orwell is not merely metaphorical; it is much deeper and more real. Orwell’s mother was born in Burma, at the height of the British raj, and Orwell was fundamentally shaped by his experiences in Burma as a young man working for the British Imperial Police. When Orwell died, the novel-in-progress on his desk was set in Burma. It is the place George Orwell’s work holds in Burma today, however, that most struck Emma Larkin. She was frequently told by Burmese acquaintances that Orwell did not write one book about their country – his first novel, Burmese Days – but in fact, he wrote three, the “trilogy” that included Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. When Larkin quietly asked one Burmese intellectual if he knew the work of George Orwell, he stared blankly for a moment and then said, “Ah, you mean the prophet!”
In one of the most intrepid political travelogues in recent memory, Emma Larkin tells of the year she spent travelling through Burma using the life and work of George Orwell as her compass. Going from Mandalay and Rangoon to poor delta backwaters and up to the old hill-station towns in the mountains of Burma’s far north, Larkin visits the places where Orwell worked and lived, and the places his books live still. She brings to vivid life a country and a people cut off from the rest of the world, and from one another, by the ruling military junta and its vast network of spies and informers. Using Orwell enables her to show, effortlessly, the weight of the colonial experience on Burma today, the ghosts of which are invisible and everywhere. More importantly, she finds that the path she charts leads her to the people who have found ways to somehow resist the soul-crushing effects of life in this most cruel police state. And George Orwell’s moral clarity, hatred of injustice, and keen powers of observation serve as the author’s compass in another sense too: they are qualities she shares and they suffuse her book – the keenest and finest reckoning with life in this police state that has yet been written.
In the spring of 1980, Oliver Knox Set out to follow on foot the track of Garibaldi’s retreat from Rome over what is still a very beautiful and little visited part of Italy. The Walk he describes is a long zig-zag up Central Italy, along the foothills and over the high Apennines. The author’s experiences and encounters are interwoven with the story of the retreat from Rome to San Marino during the summer of 1849 after the fall of the short-lived Roman Republic.
The ghost of the romantic General is ever-present to enhance the scene that meets the traveller’s eye. Oliver Knox has drawn on contemporary diaries and accounts, hitherto unpublished in English, to tell a vivid story of skirmishes and escapes, of ambushes and ‘miracles’, of the losings of the way on the stony mountain-tracks, of kidnapping of monks, of hunger and thirst endured and satisfied. These adventures touch a sympathetic chord in the author, whose enjoyment of the weather and wild country. of small towns and the company he finds in them sharpens his appetite for what is set before him. He does not allow the figure of Garibaldi to obscure the feeling of the citizens of Orvieto, Todi, Arezzo and other towns suddenly faced with the incursion of this strange army that numbered among its officer a distinctly disreputable ex-Coldstreamer as well as a Barnabite priest and a wine-merchant.
It is this awareness of people and the enjoyment of their welcome that gives especial delight to this enchanting account of a long walk through out-of-the-way parts of Tuscany, Umbria and the Marches. Everyone who enjoys travelling in Italy will enjoy this book.
An engrossing blend of travel writing and history, Drinking Arak off an Ayatollah’s Beard traces one man’s adventure-filled journey through today’s Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, and describes his remarkable attempt to make sense of the present by delving into the past.
Setting out to gain insight into the lives of Iranians and Afghans today, Nicholas Jubber is surprised to uncover the legacy of a vibrant pre-Islamic Persian culture that has endured even in times of the most fanatic religious fundamentalism. Everywhere—from underground dance parties to religious shrines to opium dens—he finds powerful and unbreakable connections to a time when both Iran and Afghanistan were part of the same mighty empire, when the flame of Persian culture lit up the world.
Whether through his encounters with poets and cab drivers or run-ins with “pleasure daughters” and mujahideen, again and again Jubber is drawn back to the eleventh-century Persian epic, the Shahnameh (“Book of Kings”). The poem becomes not only his window into the region’s past, but also his link to its tumultuous present, and through it Jubber gains access to an Iran and Afghanistan seldom revealed or depicted: inside-out worlds in which he has tea with a warlord, is taught how to walk like an Afghan, and even discovers, on a night full of bootleg alcohol and dancing, what it means to drink arak off an Ayatollah’s beard.
Mirror to Damascus is a unique portrait of a city now obscured by recent upheavals, by one of the most indefatigable and popular of travel writers.
Described by the author as simply “a work of love,” Mirror to Damascus is an enthralling and fascinating history of Damascus from the Amorites of the Bible to the revolution of 1966, as well as being a charming and witty personal record of a city well-loved.
In explaining how modern Damascus is rooted in immemorial layers of culture and tradition, Thubron explores the historical, artistic, social and religious inheritance of the Damascenes in an amusing and perceptive manner, whilst interspersing the narrative with innumerable anecdotes about travellers of bygone days.
So there we go. Is there any that you’ve read? Or now want to read? Let me know in the comments below