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Travel Writing brought to you by Publisher John Murray

8th May 2024

A selection of travel writing brought to you by Publisher John Murray.

Travel Writing brought to you by Publisher John Murray

A note from the publisher:

In 2020, at a time when travelling was curtailed, we wanted to celebrate John Murray’s history of publishing exceptional travel writing and rediscover  some timeless journeys from the past, introduced by today’s most exciting writers.

We wanted the series, like the best adventures,  to be surprising . These books capture the wonder that comes from travelling, from  opening our imaginations to unfamiliar places and cultures, or allowing us to see familiar things through different eyes. These journeys  give fresh perspectives not only on the times and places in which they were originally published, but on the time and place we find ourselves in now.” 

The books in this series are beautifully presented, a quality production with French flaps. We have just featured a sample of the titles available.

Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty, edited and compiled by  W L Rusho. Introduced by Paul Kingsnorth.

Travel Writing brought to you by Publisher John MurrayIt is almost 100 years since Everett Ruess, aged a mere 20 years, went missing in Southern Utah along the Escalante River. He simply disappeared in 1934 whilst on one of several lengthy tramps through the wilderness, leaving behind his burros (wild, tough little donkeys). His fate remains unknown.

He set off on his journey to record what he saw, both visually and through the medium of words, and this book is a collection of his letters to family and friends, together with some of his poetry.

Through his words it becomes clear that he was a sensitive soul, yearning for a greater ‘something’, enchanted and mesmerised by the vistas and experiences that confronted him.

And ultimately, what I could ‘hear’ through his words was a need to be heard and seen by his family – particularly his mother – to hold their attention and, maybe, even, demonstratively feel loved. What did he need to do in order to really get them to sit up and take notice of him? Why, travel far and wide and let them know through running written commentary what he was up to, a legacy which is available in this book today.

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The Cruel Way by Ella K Maillart. Introduced by Fiona Mozley

The author sets off in the Summer of 1939, in the company of Christina (Annemarie Christina Schwarzenbach) when talk of war is an increasingly hot topic. They intend to travel in a Ford to Kabul, passing through former Yugoslavia and onwards to Bulgaria, Turkey, Armenia (“..cold, monotonous and unforgettable….”, apparently) ending their journey in Afghanistan.

Christina, she knows, will be an oddball companion, given her addiction to morphine; but her redeeming features were noted: “Her way of packing was tidy and her loading of the dicky [the boot] systematic“. Ella was hoping to help Christina through her addiction, succeeding where others had failed – the main objective of the journey was to take her driving partner out of herself and rescue her. She is also clear that in order to have influence on her companion, she herself has to understand herself, her drives and be a centred stalwart. What better way to plumb one’s own emotional depths than to challenge established belief systems through travel? But could an untrained friend really change the destiny of someone whose core sense of self was rooted in both conscious and unconscious suffering? In modern terms this is the story of one person attempting to emotionally ‘rescue’ another, which we know can be a very complex process – and often ultimately fruitless.

The two women have to negotiate border crossings, manned by guards driven by bureaucracy (and other things). Tyre changes had to be undertaken but in Tehran, for example, there was a distinct shortage of them. They had a tent which needed erecting at various stops and primus stoves needed to be fired up for food (only, at Nikpeh, with the helpful intervention of gendarmes, a conflagration took place). The heat at times affected the smooth-running of the car, passing through landscapes where “Every details of the country quivered as if at the point of boiling”

As they continue through Iran, the author observes the border to Afghanistan – “a life that was simple, patriarchal and harmonious..” Hmmm.

It is sobering to look back at their journey through the lens of modern day, what brave women they were; and now, 90 years later reflecting on the brutal changes that have taken place and what, in particular, we can only sadly wonder at what has become of Afghanistan.

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Travel Writing brought to you by Publisher John MurrayA Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor. Introduced by Jan Morris

There is a real sense of a schoolboy straining at the leash, not settling to academia, itching to make his own way in the world. His father was in India directing the Geological Survey and his parents’ failing marriage clearly left him  somewhat adrift. Again, this is the story of a young person taking the reins of their own life, when the parents perhaps felt emotionally unavailable – something that was typical of the era.

Thus, at the tender age of of 18 years, he sets off on his “great trudge” from London to the Hook of Holland and down to Istanbul. He sleeps where he can and has minimal resources at his disposal but nevertheless has experiences galore. He observes the sights and admires the paintings that he encounters. He meets kind people who facilitate amazing encounters and adventures.

He reflects on his journeys and comes to understand the true wealth and variety of European culture and shares his observations with real enthusiasm.

His full journey took him eventually to Istanbul but in this volume he rounds off the travelogue partway at the Czech/Hungarian border. His writing skills are formidable for one so young and it is a pleasure to spend time with this author.

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The Valleys of the Assassins by Freya Stark. Introduced by Monisha Rajesh.

As a child she was inspired by Arabian Nights and so it was inevitable that she would head to Persia. This book chronicles her adventures in Western Iran.

From her writing, on the one hand there is a real sense of the woman behind the words, someone who knows what she wants and will stride out and get it. On the other, she feels like someone who is rather unknowable, certainly on an emotional level. She is very of her era, a true internationalist and a can-do attitude, who strode off on her “jaunts”. bluffing her way through borders and finding her way into inhospitable terrains. .

She was a determined looter, who disregarded local sensibilities and often included snippets of her thoughts which set her squarely in her time – she talks of one guide “being taken from his place and civilised“.

Her writing is rounded and detailed and the prose can be quite dense. She is an acclaimed and feted travel writer and undertook many adventures. For me, I find it a conscious effort to appreciate her writing in terms of her era – objectively she is a very competent and informative author but for me, I just can’t ‘hear’ the person behind the words.

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Mississippi Solo by Eddy L Harris. Introduced by Adam Weymouth.

In the 1980s, Eddy in his 30s decides – after what seems like a lifelong ambition – to take a canoe and travel from Minnesota to The Gulf of Mexico along the Mississippi. His friends urge caution (actually mock him for wanting to do this), not in the least denting his determination. He is loaned a canoe for the purpose and off he goes, although by his own acknowledgement he is “no expert in a canoe”.

The depth of the river – surprisingly – ranges from just a few feet below the surface to about two feet in depth at New Orleans, his end point.

He travels through various States as he heads further south, recording his feelings and encounters, and the highs and lows of river life. He determines not to make the colour of his skin an issue and acknowledges that “People in this country  only need  a chance and an excuse to be kind, and they respond.” Yet in Wisconsin he has a run-in with awful racism when he handles an intervention in a clever way, moving from contempt to almost compassion.

This is a wonderful story of pluck and determinations.

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Tina for the TripFiction Team

There are more titles in the series:

Travel Writing brought to you by Publisher John Murray

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