A novel based on anthropologist and author Nigel Barley’s writing career might well be called The Man Who Collected Colorful European Characters from the History of Southeast Asia.
The great Swiss travel writer Nicolas Bouvier began his career in 1963 with L’Usage du Monde, an account of a journey from Geneva to the Khyber Pass. Published in English as The Way of the World, the book earned him cult status amongst travel-writing aficionados, its distinctive sensibility and supremely elegant prose elevating it well above the myriad other 20th-century travel books featuring well-heeled young Europeans traversing sections of the old Silk Road.
Robert Macfarlane and Kathleen Jamie are the two most critically vaunted practitioners of the wildly fertile British publishing phenomenon known as “new nature writing”—though both reportedly resist that genre designation, and both are as much writers of history and human culture as of nature. Both explore these themes in similarly exquisite prose, but their tones and emphases are quite different, and their authorial performances have at times been contrastingly—and in Jamie’s case, one suspects, deliberately—gendered. While Macfarlane was bivouacking in the mountains, Jamie was watching falcons through the kitchen window; it was she who coined the phrase surely destined to dog Macfarlane for the rest of his days: the “lone enraptured male”.
Perhaps all travel writers should come home in the end.
More than 70 percent of the thousands of documented migrant workers who depart Indonesia for overseas jobs each year are women. The reason for this remarkable statistic is simple: the well-established demand for Indonesian housemaids in the wealthier countries of the region, particularly Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Around 45 percent of registered foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong are Indonesian; in Singapore the figure is 60 percent.
Each generation of British travel writers has its preeminent court jester. In the 1930s Robert Byron did much to forge the genre’s comic tradition; Eric Newby began his long career in the 1950s; and in the 1980s it was Redmond O’Hanlon who gained the highest profile with travel-writing-for-laughs.
Commentaries on Islam in Indonesia—especially those attached to major political events such as the recent presidential election—often deal in simplistic binary terms: a uniform mass of apparently ascendant “conservative Muslims” is ranged against similarly uniform blocks of embattled urban liberals or rural traditionalists.