Puur escapisme, zo’n pelgrimstocht: je hoeft tegenwoordig nergens meer in te geloven om op pad te gaan, naar Santiago de Compostella of naar Rome. Met noemt het een project of een uitdaging, goed voor de persoonlijke ontwikkeling, maar ook ideaal om vrienden en familie te imponeren. Belangrijk is vooral dat je ervan geniet; een pelgrimstocht moet je beleven. Of, je leest er eens een boek over.
Ik kan me de stukjes van Jan Blokker Jr. in de Volkskrant goed herinneren, geschreven tijdens zijn voettocht naar Rome. Leuke stukjes, ik waande me even een medepelgrim, ver van huis, terwijl ik mijn ontbijt gewoon op schoot had. In boekvorm werkt Blokkers pelgrimstocht tot ongeveer halverwege. Ik vertrok enthousiast met hem mee vanuit Amsterdam. Bekende plekken in Nederland maakten gaandeweg plaats voor onbekende pleisterplaatsen, in Duitsland en later Frankrijk. Via Kaiser Wilhelm in Huis Doorn (waar ik goede herinneringen aan bewaar), langs Elzas-Lotharingen en de slagvelden van de Eerste Wereldoorlog, overnachten in het zoveelste Hotel Napoleon. Ergens in Noord-Italië haakte ik echter af. Wellicht een geval van korte concentratiespanne, symptoom van deze tijd. Of Blokker valt op het laatst toch iets te veel in herhaling. Ik kon uit zijn verslag opmaken dat hij zelf het laatste deel van zijn tocht, inclusief de plaats van bestemming, ook een beetje als een anti-climax ervoer. Dat neemt niet weg dat ik Alle wegen naar Rome grotendeels met plezier las. Heel ver weg begon er ook bij mij iets te kriebelen. Een flard van Bruce Chatwin’s The songlines schoot door mijn hoofd: ‘go walkabout’.

17 Januari 2013

Uitgeverij Contact, 2009


How to tell a story without words? A good storyteller knows he should be as universal as possible, while telling a specific story. Of course each story is unique, but it helps if it contains an element of basic human experience.
With The Arrival Shaun Tan beautifully captured the ancient theme of the traveller. A man leaves his wife and daughter behind and travels to a foreign country. The alienation he feels in this new place – language, customs, surroundings are all unknown to him – make him long for the familiarity of home. With a nicely surreal style Tan makes you see all those strange things through the man’s eyes and through his daughter’s who misses him. A funny creature befriends the man and shows him around. Through this creature he meets other travellers. They tell the man their stories of arrival in this foreign land. It turns out many people used to have their home elsewhere. Feelings of alienation are normal, but together they can help each other make a new home.
The arrival tells a universal story; it is a book you should pick up occasionally, just to see how such a story should be told. And to look at all the pictures of course.

4 January 2013

Querido, 2008
Originally published 2007

Comments (2)

In Patagonia is Bruce Chatwin’s first book and still his most popular. Perhaps because it’s most clearly a travel book. Where The Songlines is already getting pretty philosophical, In Patagonia is still rooted in the conventions of the travel genre. A young Western man sets off to an exotic, unknown land where people are strange (to him) and the scenery is beautiful. The classic example is Robert Byron’s The road to Oxiana (1937), about the author’s journey from the Middle East to India.
Bruce Chatwin decided to travel through Patagonia (some parts Argentina, some parts Chile) towards the southernmost tip of South America. His initial goal is to locate the place where the remains of a giant sloth were dug up. Chatwin’s great uncle once sent home a piece of its skin, saying it belonged to a brontosaurus. As a young boy Chatwin was always intrigued by the strange piece of leathery skin in his grandmother’s house and decided he would one day travel to its land of origin, Patagonia. My version of In Patagonia was published in Germany so, while the text is in English (with interesting German footnotes), the afterword is completely in German. I’m not sure I understood this afterword completely, but I did manage to follow some of the editor’s points. Interestingly, he compares Chatwin’s search for that ancient brontosaurus (that turns out to have been a giant sloth) to Jason and the Argonauts’ quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
So much for the mythical context of In Patagonia. In reality, Chatwin seems much more concerned with the current state of affairs in Patagonia. During the Seventies both Argentina and Chile were struggling with various dictatorships, so politics are never far away. Mixed with this modern background, though, is a constant sense of nostalgia for the period around the turn of the century, the days when a lot of farmers settled in these foreign lands and desperados from the United States roamed around. Chatwin likes to refer to his great uncle and his contemporaries, but the people he talks to also like to bring up memories of their grandparents’ time.
In Patagonia is written within the context of other books. To illustrate the clash between European and other cultures Chatwin refers to Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Gulliver’s travels. To give a sense of the strangeness surrounding this place that has often been described as the end of the world he refers to Coleridge’s The rime of the ancient mariner and The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe. Another famous precursor is of course Charles Darwin, who in The voyage of the Beagle described many of the things Chatwin saw again a century later.
I’m not sure if I’ll pick up another Bruce Chatwin book anytime soon since they are quite ‘full’, but I do feel like checking out some of the references from In Patagonia. Luckily Chatwin wrote only a small oeuvre, so reading all of his works is still a realistic option.

27 December 2012

Phillipp Reclam, 2003
Originally published 1977

Comments (2)

(Originally read 31 January 2012)
Today I spent reading Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia. As a prelude to that book’s report though I’d like to write something about my first Bruce Chatwin book, The songlines. I read The songlines in the beginning of this year and it made quite an impression. Originally a tip from one of L.’s professors, we’d run into a second-hand copy in Leiden and decided to take a chance. Bruce Chatwin is one of those huge names in travel literature, often referred to and quoted (on new Moleskine notebooks they even say something like ‘as used by Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin’). As such things go, you develop a kind of awe for such writers that can easily prevent you from ever picking up one of their books. Fortunately, this writer’s reputation is well deserved.
I won’t say The songlines is an easy read. It’s loosely about Chatwin travelling into the interior of Australia to learn more about the mystical songlines. He learns that songlines are ancient markers that provide a sort of family connection for Aboriginal tribes. Each tribe has its own song, transmitted through generations. One Aboriginal living now can start to sing his tribe’s song and he will know which way to walk; the words are connected to specific landmarks, so you can sing and find your way across the continent. Often enough people will suddenly disappear for weeks on end, tracing their songline: going ‘walkabout’.
Enterprising modern Australians threaten some of these ancient songlines by building highways and such. If the original landmarks are not in the same place anymore, or not there at all, the songline ceases to work. This is where Chatwin gets in. In the first part of the book he gets to know the people that try to help the Aboriginals. The Aboriginals themselves are often helpless against threats because of widespread alcoholism and passivity, so they are assisted by a mixed bunch of idealists.
Chatwin, however, seems more interested in the ancient idea of the songlines. In the second part of the book he suddenly switches to some of his older travel notes, but also starts quoting a number of writers and thinkers who said things about wandering in general. This is Chatwin’s real interest; why people have started to wander throughout the ages. He sees himself as a wanderer - always restless, never happy to settle down - and feels a connection with all of these other restless spirits. The Aboriginals are just an example of this ancient human urge. For me, this is where The songlines really took off. Reading that second part gave me a thrill. I suppose there is in everyone still something left of the wanderer. Maybe this is nonsense, but it did speak to me. I haven’t burned my ships and taken to travelling the world since then, but the idea that you always could is comforting.

10 December 2012

Picador, 1988
Originally published 1987


I'm struggling with this book. It certainly was a struggle to finish, but afterwards I'm still not sure what to think of it. Stasiuk can write, that's for sure, only for some reason he chooses to write two good pages and then becomes unintelligible for another ten. I like it when he gives quotations, by writers such as Cioran, Kiš or Esterhazy. I like his decriptions of small backwater villages in Slovakia, Albania, Romania; it makes me want to drive there too. But he can have awfully dense philosophic passages that blur in front of my eyes. It almost seems he wants to push his readers away, keeping his thoughts to himself. Maybe this book wasn't meant to be published and he did write this as a personal notebook. Or maybe he refused to write a more conventional travel book and wanted to make a point like 'finding meaning in a text is pointless and irrelevant, just like finding meaning in the things I encountered on my travels is; therefore, I shall make my book as vague as possible to mirror this experience.' The text mimicks reality and all that. I don't know. Unlogically as it may seem, I am rather intrigued by this Stasiuk and will read another of his books in the near future, when possible.

27 August 2012

Vintage, 2012
Original title Jadąc do Babadag, 2004
Translated from the Polish by Michael Kandel


It's been four years since I last read a Kapuściński book, The Emperor. That's too long. I really think I should read more of his books now. This one I liked very much. Although the reading wasn't quick this is a book to enjoy and take some time for. It's well written, easily evoking images of Africa as it really was (or is). It's informative, teaching me a lot of things I didn't know before. And it's warm (for lack of a better word), making me care for Africans and their countries and also making me want to go there to see for myself how it is. I don't think I've ever wanted to go to Africa before so that's quite telling. Now I also want to read Adichie's book Half of a yellow sun (again a 'sunny' title), Frank Westerman's El Negro en ik and of course other books by Kapuscinski. Maybe The Shah of all shahs, Imperium, Another Day or The Soccer war and maybe even the controversial biography that will appear in NL next year.

5 August 2012


Een lange treinreis, Berlijn, wat te lezen? Een geschikt reisboek is Beste reiziger, bijvoorbeeld vanwege de kansloze, over het paard getilde hoofdpersoon, een reisgidsenschrijver. Maar meer nog vanwege de voortdurend licht ironische toon, waardoor het boek, en de reis, ongemerkt voorbijvliegt. Beste reiziger, neemt Schogt mee.

9 Januari 2010

Arbeiderspers, 2009


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