John Murray is famous for publishing that particular English species of travel writer, who wants nothing better than to leave civilization far behind. Murray’s back list includes Lord Byron, Lucy Atkinson (Recollections of Tartar Steppes),  Freya Stark (Valley of the Assassins) and Patrick Leigh Fermor (A Time of Gifts). Now Anthony Sattin sets out on a trip, literary and geographic, in the traces of the nomad.

La plata y el Pacífico China, Hispanoamérica y el nacimiento de la globalización, 1565-1815, Peter Gordon, Juan José Morales (Siruela, June 2022)
La plata y el Pacífico: China, Hispanoamérica y el nacimiento de la globalización, 1565-1815, Peter Gordon, Juan José Morales (Siruela, June 2022)

The Spanish translation of The Silver Way: China, Spanish America and the Birth of Globalisation, 1565–1815—the story of the Manila Galleon—with a new introduction by Elvira Roca Barea: “It explains to us not only what it meant in the past but what it still means today to understand the present and even the future of relations between East and West, and very especially, China’s relationship with Latin America.”

In 2012, Murali Ranganathan, a historian and translator of Gujarati and Marathi, came across the memoir of Nariman Karkaria, a Parsi from Gujarat, titled Rangbhoomi par Rakhad, published in 1922. The book recounts Karkaria’s travels throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, and his experiences in the First World War. The memoir,  Murali Ranganathan writes, “is the only Indian war memoir from the First World War to have been discovered thus far.” Though initially skeptical of Nariman Karkaria’s story, and unable to independently confirm the accounts of Karkaria’s war experiences, Ranganathan believes the accounts therein  are genuine.

Before becoming king on the death of his half-brother King Nangklao (Rama III), Prince Mongkut (later Rama IV) of Siam had written a confidential letter in English on the subject of establishing a British embassy in Bangkok to intermediaries of the diplomatic envoy Sir James Brooke (later Rajah of Sarawak). Mongkut explained that such an embassy would not likely happen under Nangklao, because “Siam is now of most absolute monarchy in the world, in which monarchy one’s oppinion [sic] is no use.” He went on to say further that regular people were “equal of animals and vegitables [sic] in the kingdom,” which wasn’t exactly encouraging either. However, Mongkut, unlike the far more intransigent Nangklao, was known to be a man of great perception and intelligence, and while Brooke’s mission ultimately failed, “without King Mongkut’s benign influence and open attitude, the fate of Siam at the hands of the British and other western powers could have been very different.”

Travel-writing, according to some of its critics, is a “belated” genre. The adventurers of the 19th century who wrote books about their efforts to cross uncharted deserts typically travelled by the best means available. But traversing the Sahara by camel begins to look decidedly self-indulgent when you could do it more easily by jeep. It is belatedness, the argument goes, that sometimes leads modern travel-writing into dubious nostalgia, or reduces it to silly stunts. Another option in the scramble for continued relevance is to embrace modernity, the so-called “cosmopolitan travel writing” exemplified by Pico Iyer, with its emphasis on shopping malls, airport terminals and the quirks of globalization. But this too has its pitfalls—not least an occasionally gratingly arch tone of irony. 

It can be hard to think of Everest as unknown anymore. While it’s certainly a challenge to climb the world’s tallest mountain, someone–with enough time and money—has a good chance of making it to the summit. A potential mountaineer can fly into Kathmandu, travel to a well-stocked base camp, be escorted up a well-trodden route by expert sherpas. There’s even Wifi at the peak.

Kyoto Stories, Steve Alpert (Stone Bridge 2022)
Kyoto Stories, Steve Alpert (Stone Bridge 2022)

Don Ascher is a young American living in Kyoto in the 1970s. He is a student of Japanese. He also teaches English, works at a shabu-shabu restaurant, and hangs out in the company of gangsters, hostesses, housewives, tea teachers, and fellow foreigners. Set amidst the timeless beauty of the ancient capital and its garish modern entertainments, this collection of fanciful episodes from Don’s life is a window into Japanese culture and a chronicle of romance and human connections.