This book dropped over my cultural horizon some time in 2013. Somehow, I learned that Akira Kurosawa, possibly my favourite film director, had won anThis book dropped over my cultural horizon some time in 2013. Somehow, I learned that Akira Kurosawa, possibly my favourite film director, had won an Oscar for a film I'd never heard of. So I watched it. I thought it was a very affecting film and then learned that Dersu Uzala was based on a book of the same name. Well.. Anyone that follows my reviews on here will know that I don't generally read and watch the same material but this isn't fiction, so does that count? Learning that the book is regarded as a classic in Russia, where it's a set-text in most schools, and given my academic interest in North-Eastern Asia, my mind was made up.
Vladimir Arsenyev writes with extraordinary sensitivity and for that reason alone it's easy to see why this book should be so highly regarded in his native country. What makes Dersu Uzala stand out though is not this, so much as his attitude which is remarkable given his time. Arsenyev was dispatched by the Russian army to survey the south-eastern limits of their empire - the area between Manchuria and Korea. Living the nineteenth-century tradition of the educated man, however, this survey was not just to map the region but to record the flora and fauna he discovered. The author's enthusiasm for the natural world is barely contained by his pen and descriptions of the plants and animals that he discovers - their habits and the vistas he sees - are regular features of the text.
What makes this account of his surveys unusual though is his relationship with Dersu Uzala, a Nanai, whome he meets and befriends on the first of the three expeditions recounted here. This relationship forms the structure for the book, a masterful storytelling decision, and his compassion for, and interest in, Dersu's beliefs and ease in the natural world are the most telling component of that attitude which I suggested was so remarkable. Never once is there a hint of racial (or any other) superiority in that relationship and Arsenyev's ability to see merit in Dersu's life is in stark contrast to the big-game hunting, imperialist attitude of most Westerners at this time; a fact which is occasionally brought home forcibly by both Dersu's and Arsenyev's reprimands of his cossacks and riflemen and, indeed, the latter's obvious disdain for them.
When researching this book I was lead to believe that the Malcolm Burr translation was the best and so this is the one I sought out. I cannot, obviously, compare this translation with others but I do know that good books can be easily spoiled by poor translation and Burr, an Englishman who had himself spent some time in the area travelled by Arsenyev here in the 1930's, does a masterful job of conveying Arsenyev's elegant prose....more
I first became aware of Jim Perrin back in the 1990's, when his column was the first thing I'd turn to in every issue of Climber. He displayed in thosI first became aware of Jim Perrin back in the 1990's, when his column was the first thing I'd turn to in every issue of Climber. He displayed in those scribblings a rare gift not only for evoking landscapes and places and the people that interacted with them but also for seeing the big in the small. A single move on a rock-face could explode outwards and backwards, conjuring other climbs he'd made in the same area with other people, summoning the ghosts of events of the past in that place and its surroundings - not just his own but of other historic or even folkloric events.
I did not know at that time that he also worked as a travel correspondent for The Telegraph and it is from that publication that I think most of these essays are gleaned. The result is very much a book of two halves, beginning with foreign travel - especially in the USA. Although Perrin's talent with words is still apparent here I felt that the canvas was too large. His enthusiasm was palpable but the writing was almost the reverse of what I just describe. As a tourist (I'm sure he'd hate to be described thus) he necessarily works from the big to the small, trying to find the interesting details in an overwhelming starburst of new experiences.
The second half of the book is largely taken up with one narrative, however, what the author winkingly describes, with a nod to his climbing routes, as a 'traverse' of Wales. Here his full skills shine through as we walk not just through a place but through history, personal and national, folklore and environment. He's misanthropic, occasionally irascible but always in love with a place that he wants to share with the world. To show us all why it's so special. He largely succeeds in this, even if he occasionally allows his moochin, socialist, politics to dominate a page where perhaps a lighter aside would have been more appropriate.
Overall then, two stars for the first half and four stars for the second averages out as a book I 'liked', rather than 'really liked' as GoodReads would have it....more
In the early nineties, Jeremy Clarkson had outgrown Top Gear (or so he thought) and embarked upon making several other television series, culminating,In the early nineties, Jeremy Clarkson had outgrown Top Gear (or so he thought) and embarked upon making several other television series, culminating, at the end of that decade, with his own chat-show. Most interesting of these was Motorworld and the book based on the show is probably Clarkson's best written work.
The show ran for two series and in each episode, Clarkson would visit a country (or, in a couple of cases, a smaller entity) and use that nation's relationship with cars to explore elements of their collective psyche. Of course, the author is famously full of bombast, hyperbole and inconsistency but in many instances these programs did prove to be at least slightly revelatory and go beyond the stereotypes so lovingly cherished by the British.
The book follows the two series (and one special) pretty faithfully and devotes one chapter apiece to Japan, Vietnam, Detroit, Iceland, Italy, India, Monaco, Cuba, Switzerland, Australia, Texas, Dubai and the United Kingdom. Clarkson has long been one of Britain's premier columnists: his writing is superb and, famously, even his car reviews are more contemporary commentary. This format works for the simple reason that it gives him the opportunity to write longer essays on a specific subject (it's reassuring that his prose can adapt to a longer format so well). All of his trademark flippancy and humour are evident but he writes with a more sustained focus than elsewhere.
When the BBC published the first edition of this book, in 1996, however, they also chose to include four columns (first published in a variety of publications) presenting some of the antics filmed in Extreme Machines. With a considerably narrower focus than Motorworld this program had a much smaller audience and since it was not first broadcast until after this book was published the intention was obviously to market the series. Subsequent editions have, of course, maintained these extras but they tend to detract from the rest of the volume; feeling as tacked-on as they are.
Overall then, anyone who enjoys the author's more recent, column-based, output would certainly find a lot to enjoy here and fans of humorous travel writing would be equally satisfied. This book may well prove to be Clarkson's magnum opus; presumably he still has a fair few books to write but, for now, this is his best....more
This is a curious experiment in the 'expedition book' still common in the early 1980's. The writing is shared between each of the team members, althouThis is a curious experiment in the 'expedition book' still common in the early 1980's. The writing is shared between each of the team members, although principally Doug K. Scott and Alex Macintyre and the result is a somewhat disjointed narrative. What this does, uniquely, achieve is to make naked the often fraught and fractious nature of pretty much all expeditions (mountaineering and otherwise) as well as fully revealing each of the many personalities.
Doug Scott is a famously thoughtful, reflective, quasi-spiritual individual and his prose here reveals that nature perfectly. It is not, however, great writing. That, perhaps, is why he has never joined the legion of writing-climbers and contents himself with the public-speaking circuit in his old age. Alex MaxIntyre, meanwhile, comes across as bombastic, self-aggrandising and neo-colonial - in short, the very polar opposite of his more senior colleague. When the narrative reaches the actual climb though, leaving behind the administrative and base-camp parts, his writing comes alive and you sense that, had he lived, he well have become a writer of some quality. Sadly, that was not to be.
Further reflecting Doug's character are a series of appendices, unusual for a book of this type. These outline a history of Tibetan buddhism, European contact with Tibet, expeditions in the Shishapangma region, a climbing history of the same and a view on 'expedition medicine' which is really a summary of Doug's views on the relevance of Bhuddist and Chinese spirituality to expeditions. A series of colour photographs, from this and later expeditions, is also included in this edition. All of which explains why this has come to be used as a guidebook as well as a piece of literature....more