Saturday, 5 January 2013

Jan Morris, 50 Years of Europe - An Album

jan morris, fifty years of europe

Jan Morris is a legend in the world of travel writing, but with 50 Years of Europe - An Album she surpassed even her own excellence.  I read the book open-mouthed, full of admiration for the amount of ground she has covered and the number of stories she's collected.  Mind you, these are only the European stories - how many there would be if she decided to write a global 'album'??? 

The book is composed of tiny snapshots - half a page here, three quarters there.  It may appear slightly chaotic, as she moves freely between countries and periods, but the mini-chapters are in fact thoughtfully arranged.  I don't want to reveal too much, so you'll need to read the book to discover its hidden logic but believe me - it is there :). 

As with all best travel writing, 50 Years of Europe is a mixture of travelogue and autobiography.  Jan Morris looks back at a lifetime of globetrotting (ehm...  Europe-trotting?) and picks the best places and best stories for the readers' enjoyment.  Since in this case we're talking about more than half a century, the collection is pretty impressive. 

Usually, I am quickly tired by Morris's romantic style.  I am aggressively down-to-earth, so her fanciful musings tend to irk me.  Not in this case.  A sudden change of focus in the writing?  Perhaps.  Or maybe I read 50 Years of Europe in a more tolerant frame of mind.  Whichever is correct, this is definitely the best writing by Jan Morris that I've ever come across.  I wonder, would other readers feel the same way?

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