Ticket to read

The best travel nar­ra­tives, crime capers and nov­els for the sum­mer sea­son

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Summer Reading Special - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

MEL­BOURNE’S Tran­sit Lounge im­print has had a busy 12 months, with a ruck­sack’s worth of travel nar­ra­tives on its list. ‘‘We have a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in creative lit­er­ary pub­lish­ing that ex­plores the re­la­tion­ships be­tween East and West, en­ter­tains and pro­motes in­sights into di­verse cul­tures and en­com­passes di­verse gen­res,’’ is this pub­lisher’s phi­los­o­phy.

Best of the re­cent bunch from Tran­sit Lounge is the lyri­cal The Com­fort of Water: A River Pil­grim­age by Maya Ward ($32.95), which cov­ers a jour­ney from the sea to the source of Vic­to­ria’s Yarra River. Also no­table is Rid­ing the Trains in Ja­pan: Trav­els in the Sa­cred and Su­per­mod­ern East by Pa­trick Hol­land ($29.95).

It’s been two decades since Hol­i­days in Hell, the fun­ni­est travel book of its time, whose ti­tle gave in­stant rise to an en­dur­ing catch­phrase. P. J. O’rourke is now bet­ter known as a po­lit­i­cal hu­morist and self-de­scribed ‘‘Repub­li­can party rep­tile’’; his rightwing rav­ings aside, he’s still a hi­lar­i­ous com­men­ta­tor on travel, but these days jour­neys with his fam­ily and chooses (slightly) less hellish climes. His new an­thol­ogy, Hol­i­days in Heck (Grove Press, $29.99), be­gins when he re­tires from be­ing a war correspondent be­cause he’s too old to keep be­ing scared stiff and too stiff to keep sleep­ing on the ground.

Roger Hous­den has writ­ten and edited po­etry an­tholo­gies and car­ries the works of the 13th-cen­tury Ira­nian poet, Rumi, on his jour­ney to Iran, which takes in Tehran, Is­fa­han, Perse­po­lis and Shi­raz. Saved by Beauty: Ad­ven­tures of an Amer­i­can Ro­man­tic in Iran ($22.54 with free ship­ping at fish­pond.com.au) is a med­i­tat- ive and thought­ful work, pep­pered with po­etry and phi­los­o­phy, but there are dodgy mo­ments, too, es­pe­cially when he is de­tained by hu­mour­less in­tel­li­gence agents for 36 hours.

Ti­bet’s Kailash is ‘ ‘ the most sa­cred of the world’s moun­tains and holy to one-fifth of hu­man­ity’’; in To a Moun­tain in Ti­bet (Ran­dom House, $ 29.95), ac­claimed Bri­tish travel author and nov­el­ist Colin Thubron, a devo­tee of Asia’s least tram­melled re­gions, treks be­side the Kar­nali River, a trib­u­tary of the Ganges, on a treach­er­ous pil­grim­age to reach the fa­bled peak.

Last year marked the cen­te­nary of Amer­i­can ex­plorer Hi­ram Bing­ham’s ‘‘re­dis­cov­ery’’ of Peru’s Machu Pic­chu. In the timely Turn Right at Machu Pic­chu: Re­dis­cov­er­ing the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams (Dut­ton, $ 39.95), the author re­traces Bing­ham’s path in search of the an­swer to the peren­nial quandary of why the In­cas built this pre­car­i­ous and so­phis­ti­cated ci­tadel.

In Jan­uary 1992, a cargo ship from Hong Kong, caught in a storm in the north Pa­cific, lost 12 con­tain­ers of bath toys, many of them lit­tle ducks that bobbed off on their own jour­neys, wash­ing up in var­i­ous climes, with amus­ing and far-reach­ing re­sults, as chron­i­cled in the en­joy­able Moby-duck by Dono­van Hohn (Scribe, $35).

Lonely Planet churns out sev­eral an­tholo­gies a year, typ­i­cally edited by Don Ge­orge, who com­piles col­lec­tions of themed es­says by the world’s best travel scribes. In A House Some­where: Tales of Life Abroad ($24.99), schol­arly writ­ers such as Jan Mor­ris, Wil­liam Dal­rym­ple and Pico Iyer, and the very funny Tim Parks, tell us about places with ‘‘mys­te­ri­ous at­trac­tions’’ so ir­re­sistible that they have upped sticks and moved there. Check lone­ly­planet.com for other an­tholo­gies on themes from life-chang­ing food en­coun­ters to hap­less mis­ad­ven­tures.

An­other ex­cel­lent an­thol­ogy re­leased last year is Ox Trav­els: Meet­ings with Re­mark­able Travel Writ­ers (Pro­file, $24.99), with an in­tro­duc­tion by Michael Palin and con­tri­bu­tions from the stel­lar likes of Peter God­win. And hot to trot this month is The New Granta Book of Travel, edited by Liz Jobey ( Granta, $ 29.99) in which Jonathan Ra­ban in­tro­duces stand­out es­says from the past 20 years, with by­lines as fa­mil­iar as Bruce Chatwin, Red­mond O’han­lon and Paul Th­er­oux. Whether cosy or hard-boiled, the best crime writ­ing rev­els in a dis­tinct sense of place and, for my hol­i­day bucks, there’s noth­ing more ap­peal­ing than read­ing, say, a Miss Marple who­dunit when tour­ing county Eng­land or, if pitched up in Botswana, be­ing in com­pany with Alexan­der Mc­call Smith’s mar­vel­lous sleuth Pre­cious Ramotswe of The No 1 Ladies De­tec­tive Agency fame.

Michael Stan­ley is the writ­ing name of Jo­han­nes­burg aca­demics Michael Sears and Stan­ley Trol­lip; their lik­able gumshoe is Botswana’s De­tec­tive Kubu, a chap who in­sists on three square meals a day and a good sup­ply of steel­works (tonic, bit­ters and gin­ger beer). You’ll find Kubu in fine and nosy form in The Sec­ond Death of Good­luck Tin­ubu ( Harper­collins, $23.95) and, soon to be re­leased, Death of the Man­tis.

Sin­ga­pore-based Shamini Flint has also cre­ated a portly de­tec­tive with a taste for hearty tucker. The lat­est in her pacy In­spec­tor Singh In­ves­ti­gates se­ries is A Deadly Cam­bo­dian Crime Spree (Pi­ak­tus, $22.99), while Colin Cot­ter­ill, cre­ator of Dr Siri, Laos’s el­derly coro­ner and solver of das­tardly crimes, is back this month in Slash and Burn (Quer­cus, $24.99).

I dis­cov­ered Marco Vichi’s old­school Ital­ian po­lice­man, In­spec­tor Bordelli, who ex­ists on a regime of grappa, espres­sos and cig­a­rettes, in Death i n Au­gust last Oc­to­ber and now have packed in my port the next in the se­ries, Death and the Olive Grove (Hod­der & Stoughton, $32.99). It’s April 1964 and lit­tle girls are be­ing mur­dered as a ‘‘grey, damp sky’’ hangs over Florence. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht (Wei­den­feld & Ni­col­son, $29.95) is a fan­tas­ti­cal de­but set in the former Yu­goslavia; it won the Orange Prize for Fic­tion last year. Mel­bourne-based ex­pa­tri­ate Sri Lankan writer Chan­dani Lokuge does a sub­con­ti­nen­tal shift to Aus­tralian sub­ur­bia for her poignant third novel, Softly, As I Leave You (Ar­ca­dia, $24.95).

The won­der­fully pompous Pro­fes­sor Doc­tor Moritz-maria von Igelfeld is back in Mc­call Smith’s Un­usual Uses for Olive Oil (Lit­tle, Brown, $ 32.99), based in the Bavar­ian city of Re­gens­burg (I war­rant you’ll be hooked and will want to read Mc­call Smith’s ear­lier Von Igelfeld ti­tles: Por­tuguese Ir­reg­u­lar Verbs, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs and At the Villa of Re­duced Cir­cum­stances). Any­one who’s ever thought of open­ing a re­sort, B&B or small ho­tel should read Build­ing Par­adise by David Mac­far­lane (Wake­field Press, $24.95), a re­fresh­ingly hon­est ac­count of set­ting up an eco- lodge in the Queens­land Whit­sun­days. For 14 years, he bat­tled the en­trenched tourism cul­ture, bureau­cracy and nasty naysay­ers to make his dream a re­al­ity.

There is imag­i­na­tive sto­ry­telling and a brave, un­clouded evo­ca­tion of East Africa in Cock­tail Hour Un­der the Tree of For­get­ful­ness by Alexan­dra Fuller (Si­mon & Schus­ter, $29.99), the se­quel to her 2002 Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight; these are the best books I’ve read on the dis­lo­ca­tion of the ex­pa­tri­ate ex­pe­ri­ence and the frag­ile im­per­fec­tions of fam­ily. Su­san Kuro­sawa’s crime novel set in 1960s Bom­bay will be re­leased by Pen­guin in 2012.

A hun­dred years af­ter its ‘re­dis­cov­ery’, there’s still an air of mys­tery about the Inca ci­tadel of Machu Pic­chu in Peru

Jill Scott in the TV ver­sion of The No 1 Ladies De­tec­tive Agency

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