The beauty of travelling is in the discovery of new, near and faraway places, encountering cultures, traditions and mindsets different from our own. And the desire to travel can also come from reading. There are four travel books, four writers and four completely different writing styles to make you feel free to explore the world with curious eyes and from an entirely new perspective.
To quote explorer and writer Isabelle Eberhardt, “For those who know the value of and exquisite taste of solitary freedom, the act of leaving is the bravest and most beautiful of all. To be alone, to have few needs, to be unknown, everywhere a foreigner and at home, and to walk grandly and solitarily in conquest of the world”.
David Szalay, Turbulence
Twelve stories of departures and returns. Twelve characters portrayed in David Szalay’s dry and essential writing style travelling from one end of the world to the other. The twelve stories become a veritable literary “in-flight relay”, each one introduced by an air route. The aircraft is not simply the means of transport that symbolises contemporaneity. In this book, it represents the unstable and precarious condition of humankind, our fears and our aspirations.
The twelve protagonists have different experiences with the common denominator being a reflection on the impermanence of human life, that Szalay in his own words calls an “odd discontinuity” in our “presence in the world”. One of Szalay’s characters says that what she hated the most about even the mildest turbulence “was the way it ended the illusion of security, the way that it made it impossible to pretend that she was somewhere safe”. According to the writer, the aircraft is not only the mode of transport shared by the protagonists but also a metaphor for our very own fate. It is an unsafe place, one in which we cannot hide or shelter but where we can all ponder on our condition.
Luis Sepulveda, Patagonia Express
Notes from the south of the world beyond the 42nd parallel. Glimpses of places so far away that they seem unreachable. Sites where nature astounds for its beauty and specialness. In “Patagonia Express” Luis Sepùlveda writes about his Chile, that long and narrow country stretching to the end of the world, from where he was forced to escape during Pinochet’s dictatorship and to which he returned, armed with pen and paper, to criss-cross and discover it.
In twelve chapters, Sepùlveda collects his Notes and tells the stories of one-of-a-kind people, like Carlos E Basta, a man whose life aspiration was to fly and who invented a profession for himself flying light aircraft and helicopters across the immense spaces of southern Chile to supply the estancias. Carlos E Basta is just one of the portraits that Sepùlveda sketches to take the reader to the heart of the sites he visited, to discover the land of Patagonia that besides being a legendary place has been a source of inspiration for the many travellers who set out on an adventure in the footsteps of the characters who, in one of the last sentences of the book, are “all with me and allow me to say out loud that living is a magnificent exercise”.
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
Two friends, no ageing and definitely out of shape are an unlikely pair to take on the over 3,400 kilometres of the Appalachian Trail, the epitome of long-distance treks across 14 states in the USA. American writer Bill Bryson gives us a first-person account of his journey, narrated in his customarily irreverent and humorous style. Starting from the description of the immense trail to be walked, that is completed only by a few, weird and hyperactive characters, Bryson “warns” the reader about the risks and perils of the Appalachian Trail, the funniest and most bizarre being the description of all the possible ways you can be mauled by a bear.
Bryson was accompanied in this – vain – endeavour by his friend Katz, and his words portray a typical hiker who fails in the attempt to get closer to nature. The people who hike the Appalachian Trail struggle to enjoy the natural wonders and end up tiring quickly due to the physically and climatically exhausting trek.
“A Walk in the Woods” is not just the story of an anti-heroic journey – given the two hikers abandon the walk after only 1400 kilometres to resume it in another way – but, above all, it is a sharp and profound denunciation of mass tourism, especially in America, and its impact on the environment. Reading Bryson is an alternative way to reflect on some themes but, above all, it is an invitation to rediscover the vastness of what nature offers to be preserved and loved. The film A Walk in the Woods (2015), starring Robert Redford, is based on the book.
Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Shadow of the Sun
“The Shadow of the Sun” is a portrait of the most authentic Africa described by Ryszard Kapuscinski during his years as a foreign correspondent for the Polish news agency PAP. It is one of the Polish writer’s most famous works, a book without a real plot in which he chases the stories, anecdotes and encounters he experienced personally in Africa, with a sometimes unpredictable dry and raw style.
The book begins with Kapuscinski’s first impression of Africa in Ghana. The journey winds through Tanzania and Uganda, and then on to Lake Victoria, the continent’s largest. The writer also details the great political instability, speaking about the coups in Zanzibar and Nigeria, local insurrections in other countries and the great revolution in Rwanda, with its genocide and its horrors. Kapuscinski teaches us to step away from stereotypes and look at Africa through different eyes. The result is a collage of a jagged land rich in contradictions. And it is precisely its diversity that makes it unique.