Saturday, 11 February 2012

Eduardo Galeano, Mirrors

eduardo galeano mirrors

Two words - mixed feelings.  Let's start with the good news, shall we?

My copy of Mirrors was fabulous, and I mean it.  Not that it was new (although it was), but it was printed on beautiful paper, in an eye friendly font, decorated by stylish graphics.  It would be a pleasure to read even if it consisted solely of blah blah blah.  Well, ok, I might be exaggerating here, but only slightly.

As to the actual writing - yummy.  Kind of poetic, kind of metaphorical, yet in most cases with delicious bottom line.  Galeano has a knack for telling a moralising story without actual moralising, no sermons, but stories, pictures with a message that brings a reader to his or her knees.  Stories on mistreatment of women over the ages.  Stories of racism, of poverty, of power abuse, of cruelty and other ugly aspects of humanity.  I would be totally in love with Mirrors if not for one tiny detail...

Short and sweet - I don't trust Mr Galeano.  I don't have enough knowledge to speak with any authority about most of his stories, but there are some topics on which I am an expert and well...  Let's just say I can't accuse the author of scientific accuracy, or even journalistic objectivity.  The way I see it, he takes a story, an event, a myth and tells it in the way that will show his message in the best light, without bothering too much about facts.  His message is praiseworthy, sure, but even the noblest of messages suffers when dressed in propaganda.  Moreover, Galeano rumbles against using propaganda in politics - and proceeds to use distortions of the truth for his own means.  Ouch. 

As long as Mirrors is treated as creative writing, as an individual's view on the world's past and present, it is delicious.

Just double check the facts before you let it change your world.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Jan Morris, Travels

jan morris travels

If you don't know it yet, let me tell you - Jan Morris is a GIANT of travel writing.  She (or once he, having been born as James Morris) has been to everywhere on our planet, or so it seems.  Any travel writing tribute/anthology/collection includes something of hers, and so does any bookshop's and library's travel section.  I've seen her described as the greatest travel writer of our (or indeed, all) times and well, she IS good. 

Even so, I'm not joining her fan club.  I can't quite put my finger on the reason, but somehow Morris's writing...  bores me (and yes, I do feel a bit as if I was spitting on a monument when saying so).  I can't quite tune into her visionary descriptions, I can't see what she sees in places she describes.  It might be because she steers towards what I perceive as poetry or even mysticism and my preference is for cold, hard facts and saucy anecdotes.  It might be just me.  And even I can't deny that her grasp of language is truly impressive.

Travels was written long, long time ago.  In 1976, to be precise.  In this particular instance, I believe the fact to be an advantage.  The world as described in this small collection of essays (150 or so pages) exists no more.  Hong Kong is no longer British.  Dublin is no longer poor.  None of other places included in Travels is what it was thirty six years ago, and it adds to the booklet's charm.  It's no longer ordinary travel writing, it's history.  A history not written by politically-minded demagogues, but by an eye witness who's not conscious of writing a historical account. 

For that alone, Travels deserves to be read.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

John Simpson, Not Quite World's End

john simpson not quite world's end

To say that I was pleasantly surprised is to say not enough.

I chose the book rather randomly, in the 'educate myself' mood and opened it more with the sense of duty than anticipation...  and stayed gripped from the first word to the last.  Interesting, well-written, world-conscious account of a journalist's life?  Yeah, sure, but it's still not enough.  Touching story of personal tragedy and joy?  Surely, but...  A behind-the-scenes peek at the BBC world and some political storms of our times?  Yes, that too.  A collection of travel/politics essays, presented in easily digestible form?  Again I have to agree.  Not Quite World's End is all that and more.

I don't know Mr Simpson from the TV (being blissfully free of this hypnotic curse of contemporary times), I don't recognize him either as a celeb or a professional.  I shall now.  If I ever come across something else generated by his pen, I'll read it too.  I know nothing of his other works, but after Not Quite World's End I'm happy to risk checking them out.  I'm not quite sure what charmed me so much in the book, if I was to point my finger to one single feature I would probably have hard time doing it.  Yet I was glued to each of 450 of its pages.  If this is not good writing, then I don't know what is. 

Subject-wise it's not too original.  Iraq (and the rest of Middle East).  Japan.  South Africa.  Congo.  Balkans.  Anywhere that a war correspondent can report from.  Yet, Not Quite World's End is not quite reporting, not really.  It a cross between essay collection and anecdote treasury and well... 

I loved it.  What's more to say?

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Tony Horwitz, Into the Blue

tony horwitz into the blue

Don't run yet, this is not another Baywatch incarnation.  The book's full title is much more revealing (and appealing, too):  Into the Blue - Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before.  Rather longish, but self-explanatory. 

There have been many books like that - an author chooses his interest, travels worldwide doing research (expenses presumably paid) and writes a report from his journeys in the book form.  A brilliant idea if I've ever seen one!  In this particular instance, captain James Cook is the interest and travels include some rather smashing destinations - Tahiti, Hawaii, Tonga, Alaska and others.  I keep promising myself that one day I will write a book like that, too. 

I might sound slightly sarcastic, but the book was actually quite alright.  Smoothly written, dynamic, funny - and it got better as it progressed.  I don't see much merit in reporting the state of monuments to Cook's memory worldwide (which is usually pretty poor and monuments are fakes anyway) but the body of information on the brave Captain was sound and interesting and overall it's a pleasant way of ingesting some history. 

Nothing life-changing but still - light, easy and pleasant.  And sometimes this is exactly what's needed.