3 Books Weekly #19: Travel books from author Nick Jubber
09.00, Friday 8 Jul 2016 Link to this post
The following was first posted on the 3 Books Weekly email newsletter and has since been archived here.
We’ve got three particularly transporting books today from author Nick Jubber. I have his first book, The Prester Quest, at home – he’s off travelling again right now (of course) and his third book is out soon. Actually I’ve just been nosing around on Twitter and it’s got a cover already! Here’s a pic of the proofs.
Follow Nick on Twitter: @jubberstravels.
#1. Beware of Pity (B-Format Paperback), by Stefan Zweig
Stefan Zweig was one of the most popular writers in Europe. Then the Nazis burned his books and he fetched up in Brazil, where he overdosed on barbiturates in 1942. His reputation dribbled away, although it’s been reviving lately (Wes Anderson cited him as an inspiration for Grand Budapest Hotel). Beware of Pity is the brilliant tale of a young soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army and his tumultuous battle with his own compassion. Nobody dissects emotions like Zweig. He cuts so deep you can almost hear the blood pumping as you turn the pages, yet his writing is forensic in its detail. Whether exposing the young soldier’s insecurities, the lovesickness of the crippled girl he mistakenly asks to dance, her father’s anguished neediness, even the tearfulness of the manservant, Zweig carries you through the literary equivalent of a car crash, racing towards a head-on collision with the great event of the age. It’s brutal, bruising stuff, and brilliantly entertaining.
#2. Palace Walk: Cairo Trilogy 1 (The Cairo Trilogy, Vol. 1), by Naguib Mahfouz
I first read Mahfouz’s intimate, inter-generational saga on bus journeys across the Middle East, and it pumped life into the world I was skimming through. Staying in the home of a shouty patriarch, I thought of Mahfouz’s stern Abd al-Jawad; drinking with a lusty Cairene near the Nile, I recalled bottom enthusiast Yasin. Later, I got to meet Mahfouz, although it was a salutary lesson: the octogenarian author had lost the fire that’s preserved so brilliantly in his books. For the western reader, much of the power in Mahfouz’s novels comes from the tension between the familiarity - sibling rivalries, erotic yearnings for the girl next-door - and the alienness of time and place. It’s an intricate depiction of a society on the cusp of change, twitching against colonial rule. Watching the footage of crowds protesting in Tahrir Square recently, I couldn’t help thinking of the scenes of protest in Mahfouz’s novels, and imagine the family of Abd al-Jawad there amongst them.
3. A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
I’ve been scribbling a travel book recently, so I feel I had better recommend one! Top of the pile has to be Fermor’s mercurial trilogy. It’s a timely read, reminding us what the continent was like before the last century’s most seismic catastrophe - and how benign a place can appear when the fracture lines are already spreading. Fermor set off from the Hook of Holland in 1933, with the intention of walking to Istanbul, hanging out in the schlosses of Central European counts, kipping in barns, or dossing down with gypsies in the woods. Writing much later, he conjures a magical contrast between his wistful middle-aged self and the younger, more callow adventurer, transporting us into his travels with prose immersive and elegant. For anybody unaware of the bewitching potential of the travel book, A Time of Gifts will be a thrilling discovery. For anybody wanting to understand Europe, this passionate, erudite account is the most essential book I know.