AROUND THE WORLD IN (SLIGHTLY MORE THAN) 80 WORDS
How many of us have grown up to fulfil a childhood dream by visiting a place we once read about in a book?
Words are powerful. Carefully crafted and woven together, words transport the reader. They fire the imagination, carrying you off to unknown, far-flung worlds, places that linger in daydreams. From Narnia to Namibia, literary journeys are often precursors to geographical ones.
Literary nomads litter transport hubs the world over, noses shoved in books awaiting planes, trains and automobiles to whisk them away. It’s rare to meet a fellow traveller without a story; whether it’s a battered paperback, a Kindle tucked into a leather case or a yarn of their own to share around the dinner table, written in a journal as well as etched in memory.
Here are some of the novels and memoirs that have been the literary launch-pad for some of our own adventures…
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
“I climbed a path and from the top looked up-stream towards Chile. I could see the river, glinting and sliding through the bone-white cliffs with strips of emerald cultivation either side. Away from the cliffs was the desert. There was no sound but the wind, whirring through thorns and whistling through dead grass, and no other sign of life but a hawk, and a black beetle easing over white stones.”
Fascinated by South America from a young age, In Patagonia is Chatwin’s account of his journey through this remote land in which he weaves historical fact with anecdotes of touching encounters with those he met along the way.
Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara
“I finally felt myself lifted definitively away on the winds of adventure toward worlds I envisaged would be stranger than they were, into situations I imagined would be much more normal than they turned out to be.”
Follow an adolescent Che and his biochemist friend Alberto as they set off on La Poderosa to learn more of their home continent. Profoundly altered by the social injustices witnessed along his journey, by the end Guevara vows to dedicate his life to the cause of the poor. The rest, as they say, is history.
Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
“It was a city to visit, not a city to live in, but it was the city where Wormold had first fallen in love and he was held to it as though to the scene of a disaster. Time gives poetry to a battlefield.”
Greene, a master of succinct scene setting and satire, cleverly pokes fun at the British Secret Service while using Batista’s Havana as the geographical backdrop. The hapless protagonist Wormold soon becomes entangled in a web of intrigue and espionage over which he has little control.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life…”
The heart of the Beat generation thumps through every page of this cult classic – ever-present in every student’s or globetrotter’s bookcase, its philosophy has created more itchy-footed travellers than we’d care to mention.
Burmese Days by George Orwell
“…it is a corrupting thing to live one's real life in secret. One should live with the stream of life, not against it.”
An insider’s critical commentary on British rule in Burma during the days of the colonialism, Orwell’s first novel had to undergo several edits before it was authorised for publishing in the UK. Despite its ongoing political turbulence, Burma remains little-changed physically, and Orwell perfectly depicts its clammy climate, wild jungles, primitive infrastructure and willing nature of the Burmese people.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
“We are travellers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”
The Alchemist is an allegorical tale that follows Santiago, a young shepherd boy who sets off on journey from Andalucia to Egypt in the hope of finding the treasure of his dreams. A truly inspiring read, it took Coelho just two weeks to scribe what went on to be an international best-seller.
The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron
“I have never encountered splendour of this kind before. Other interiors came into my mind as I stood there, to compare it with: Versailles, or the porcelain rooms at Schónbrunn, or the Doge's Palace, or St Peter's. All are rich; but none so rich. Their richness is three-dimensional; it is attended by all the effort of shadow: In the Mosque of Sheikh Lutfullah, it is a richness of light and surface, of pattern and colour only. The architectural form is unimportant.”
Byron’s travelogue, based on his journey through the Middle East and Central Asia, is as gripping as it is humorous. Recalling interesting and unusual encounters with the different cultures and describing intricately the architectural treasures he stumbles upon, Byron’s classic is considered by many to be the first great example of modern travel writing.
Out of Africa by Karen von Blixen (pen name Isak Dinesen)
“The Cicada sing an endless song in the long grass, smells run along the earth and falling stars run over the sky, like tears over a cheek.”
A vivid snapshot of colonial life in the then British East Africa (now Kenya) and a tribute to those who touched Blixen’s life during her 17 years of running a coffee plantation there. Captivated by the vivid colours, the melodious wildlife and mesmerising landscapes, Blixen tells us of a country that clearly stole her heart.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
“Perhaps as you went along you did learn something. I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about.”
The haze and heat of Hemingway’s easy prose lifts off the page. Andalucian life in the tense lull after the First World War clings to the café culture it has since learned to celebrate. The account of bull fighting is brutal and brilliant in equal measures.
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
A fanciful account of his voyage to the Mediterranean and the Holy Land onboard the Quaker City, Twain writes with wit, accuracy and frankness as he perceptively critiques the behaviour and customs of his fellow high society passengers. Hailed as one of the most prominent works of travel writing, Twain’s lively satire continues to inspire the globetrotting generations.