In Russia’s far east, meeting a person alone in the wilderness is usually a bad thing. Some recluses in this remote region might be criminals of one kind or another: those hiding from law enforcement or those hiding from other criminals. But when conservationist Jonathan C Slaght ran into a man with “a crazy look in his eyes” and one missing finger living alone in an abandoned World War II hydroelectric station, rather than make a quick exit, he took the hermit up on his offer to spend the night.

“How did Ibn Battuta support himself on his travels?”, asked a student once. It’s hard to imagine a world where erudition and charm enable a man to travel the world as the honored guests of kings and scholars as well as humble folk, but that is how things worked in those days. It also helped to be able to sleep as soundly in silk sheets as on a crofter’s mat. A world like that, a man like that, does not belong to a remote past, but it may belong to a past that is fading fast. Tales from the Life is an outpouring of praise and sadness on the occasion of the death earlier this year of Bruce Wannell, the last great English traveler in the Orient. 

On the first page of Return to Sri Lanka, Razeen Sally endearingly describes himself as a wonk, ie a technocrat. A political economist and policy advisor on international trade, his writing normally appears in academic journals; this is his first attempt to write something more personal. He was born and grew up in Sri Lanka, but as an adult he lost touch with the country. This book is a personal rediscovery and an exhaustive look at the history and culture of the island.

The ‘Other’ Shangri-la: Journeys through the Sino-Tibetan frontier in Sichuan, Shivaji Das (Kornark Publishers, July 2020)
The ‘Other’ Shangri-la: Journeys through the Sino-Tibetan frontier in Sichuan, Shivaji Das (Konark Publishers, July 2020)

The ‘Other’ Shangri-La is a work of narrative non-fiction based on Shivaji Das and his wife’s journey through the Sino-Tibetan frontier land of western Sichuan. It describes the rugged landscape of this region that comprises 7,000-metre-high mountains, deep gorges, vast grasslands and the world’s most dangerous roads.

When Emily Clements finds herself alone in Vietnam after her best friend suddenly departs for Australia, she tries to make the best of her opportunity to see Southeast Asia. Only nineteen, Clements quickly picks up the language and goes out of her way to meet Hanoians. This memoir of her year in Vietnam is not, however, a typical expat book about immersing oneself into another culture. Instead, it centers on the way women are conditioned to put our feelings last. 

Perhaps because Central Asia is still off the beaten track, it attracts its fair share of travel writers, maybe more than its fair share, from the venerable Colin Thurbon (who has two, The Lost Heart of Asia and Shadow of the Silk Road), two by horse (The Last Secrets of the Silk Road by Alexandra Tolstoy and On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads by Tim Cope) and the cleverly-entitled Out of Steppe by Daniel Metcalfe and Postcards from Stanland by David Mould. Fortunately for Erika Fatland, the region is changing so quickly that no one, not even Thurbon, remains definitive for long: there’s always room for a new entry.