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Authors on location – Dervla Murphy
30th January 2018
#AuthorsOnLocation – DERVLA MURPHY
For some writers location is as integral to their story-telling as plot or character. TripFiction takes a look at some of these authors, for whom a sense of place has helped to define their literary output. For the seventh in the series we have chosen Dervla Murphy.
Dervla has led a life full of almost unimaginable travel adventures, initially by bicycle, then with her daughter Rachel, and latterly with a more political eye, but always with a deep sense of inquisitiveness for the wild landscapes and indigenous people she encounters.
Dervla has written far too many books to include in this short summary, but here are a few which hopefully transport TripFiction readers to just some of the adventurous destinations embraced by this intrepid and wholly intriguing woman.
Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle – travelogue set in Europe, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India
Shortly after her tenth birthday, Dervla Murphy decided to cycle to India.
Almost 20 years later, she set out to achieve her ambition. Her epic journey began during the coldest winter in memory, taking her through Europe, Persia, Afghanistan, over the Himalayas to Pakistan, and into India.
This captivating account – Murphy’s first – is an enchantment that holds the reader to the final page.
In Ethiopia with a Mule – travelogue set in Ethiopia
In 1966 Dervla Murphy travelled the length and breadth of Ethopia, first on a mule, Jock, whom she named after her publisher, and later on a recalcitrant donkey.
The remarkable achievement was not surviving three armed robberies or the thousand-mile trail, but the gradual growth of affection for and understanding of another race.
Muddling through in Madagascar – travelogue set in Madagascar
Dervla Murphy and her daughter discover the warmth and charm of the Malagasy people on the fascinating and little-explored island of Madagascar.
‘Both a revelatory look at a richly mysterious country and a traveller’s tale that keeps its grip every bump of the way’.
‘Everything about Madagascar is surprising’, as Dervla Murphy and her fourteen-year-old daughter, Rachel, found to their delight. Despite accidents, misadventures, bemusing contrasts and the political instability of the Great Red Island, they returned with a lasting respect for the kindness of its proud and subtle people.
Cameroon with Egbert – travelogue set in Cameroon
Cameroon with Egbert tells the story of a journey through the remote areas of Cameroon undertaken by indomitable author Dervla Murphy and her daughter Rachel, accompanied by an endearing horse named Egbert.
During the course of their wanderings they are frequently mistaken for husband and wife, forcing Dervla to bare her chest to prove her femininity; they continually get lost, are obliged to eat repulsive local delicacies; are arrested, fall ill, are baked by the sun and soaked by tropical storms and, disastrously, lose Egbert.
The two women’s charm, wit and sense of adventure shine through all these setbacks, which would have daunted lesser travellers. They eventually leave this laid-back, peaceful country with great reluctance, having been ‘enspelled’ by its beauty and the friendliness of the Cameroonians.
South from the Limpopo – travelogue set in South Africa
Dervla Murphy’s journal of her cycle tours of South Africa, before, during, and after the transfer of power in 1994, gives a day-by-day view of that momentous period.
When she first pedalled across the Limpopo she fancied that she understood South Africa’s problems because for more than 40 years she had – from a distance – taken a particular intrest in them. Within 12 hours of her journey that illusion was shattered.
This journal reflects her moods of confusion and elation, hope and disappointment as she tries to come to terms with a country even more complex and shattered – but also more flexible – than she had expected.
As she records her quite often contradictory reactions to the new South Africa, Dervla Murphy’s journal records how she came to love the new South Africa.
A Month by the Sea: Encounters in Gaza – travelogue set in Palestine
Over the summer of 2011, Dervla Murphy spent a month in the Gaza Strip. She met liberals and Islamists, Hamas and Fatah supporters, rich and poor. Used to western reporters dashing in and out of the Strip in times of crisis, the people she met were touched by her genuine, unflinching interest and spoke openly to her about life in their open-air prison.
What she finds are a people who, far from the story we are so often fed, overwhelmingly long for peace and an end to the violence that has so grossly distorted their lives. The impression we take away from the book is of a people whose real, complex, nuanced voice has rarely been heard before.
A Month by the Sea gives a unique insight into the way in which isolation has shaped this society: how it radicalizes young men and plays into the hands of dominating patriarchs, yet also how it hardens determination not to give in and turns family into a towering source of support.
Underlying the book is Dervla’s determination to try to understand how Arab Palestinians and Israeli Jews might forge a solution and ultimately live in peace. Dervla looks long and hard at the hypocrisies of Western and Israeli attitudes to peace, and at Palestinian attitudes to terrorism.
While this shattered people long for a respite from the bombings that have ripped a hole, both literally and psychologically, in their world, it seems that politicians have an agenda that pays little attention to their plight.
Andrew for the TripFiction Team
Dervla has won worldwide praise for her writing and has been described as a ‘travel legend’ and ‘the first lady of Irish cycling’. Now in her 80s, she continues to travel around the world and remains passionate about politics, conservation, bicycling and beer.
She is far too busy to mess around with social media, so it’s probably best to connect with her through her remarkable books.
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