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Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Ways in the world

Ah, the old best-books parlour game.... Concierge.com, the website associated with Conde Nast Traveller, announces "The 86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time, chosen by "a literary all-star jury". Among undisputed classics like Wilfred Thesiger's Arabian Sands, George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, and Robert Byron's Road to Oxiana, there are, unsurprisingly, two books by our own V.S. Naipaul: his first and third India books, An Area of Darkness and India: A Million Mutinies Now.

But! no travel books set in the Caribbean. Well, dear readers, shall we come up with our own list? I'll start, if you add further suggestions in the comments below. First, travel books by Caribbean writers (we'll use the nice definition suggested by Pico Iyer in a note accompanying the Concierge.com list: "A travel book can be defined as one that its author would never think of as a travel book; to him, it is history or anthropology, memoir or even camouflage fiction"):

- There are of course Naipaul's other travel books--most infamously, perhaps, The Middle Passage, a book many Caribbean readers are yet to digest; his less-well-known Congo Diary; his American sojourn, A Turn in the South; in some ways, even The Enigma of Arrival is a "travel" book--just look at the title.

- It's generally agreed that Vidia's brother Shiva is Naipaul minor in both senses, but we mustn't forget his North of South or his troubling Jonestown book, Black and White.

- Does anyone still remember Edgar Mittelholzer's With a Carib Eye (1958), his account of travelling from New Amsterdam on Guyana's Berbice coast up the chain of islands?

- Andrew Salkey's Georgetown Journal, his account of the Caribbean Writers' and Artists' Conference in Guyana in 1970, is one of the most unfairly underappreciated books by any Caribbean writer. The original New Beacon edition is still in print after thirty-five years. I'm ashamed to say I haven't read its companion volume, Havana Journal.

- Mentioning Havana reminds me, of course, of the "North American Scenes" José Martí wrote during the time he lived in New York. The Penguin Selected Writings edited and translated by Esther Allen a few years ago includes a selection.

- Jamaica Kincaid's polemic A Small Place may be the single harshest book ever written about the Caribbean--even counting Naipaul. It ought to be required reading. More recently, Among Flowers describes a botanical expedition in the Himalayas--after My Garden Book, all Kincaid's readers must know what a keen horticulturalist she is.

Then there's Lamming's Pleasures of Exile, E.A. Markham's Papua New Guinea Sojourn, even Charlotte Williams's Sugar and Slate.... These are just to get the discussion started, dear readers--what else should we add to the list?

In a forthcoming post: travel books about the Caribbean by writers from elsewhere.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Edwidge Danticat's After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti.