Monday, July 29, 2013

The Way of the World

a post from 2011...
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The Way of the World, Nicolas Bouvier's story of his 18 month journey from Yugoslavia to India, undertaken 55 years ago with his friend Thierry in an unreliable Fiat is my book of the year so far. It was first self-published in Switzerland and has now been rereleased in a lovely edition by NYRB books complete with an introduction by the Marcel Proust of travel writing, Patrick Leigh Fermor.
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Bouvier and Thierry had no money at all and they blagged their way to India by charming the locals, writing newspaper articles and organizing art exhibitions. No one undertakes journeys or writes travel books like these anymore. The friends went slowly and observed places and people and thought about them. In Iran they are thrown into prison and nearly killed and a contemporary book editor surely would have made Bouvier play up these events, but he was his own editor and told the story his way, underplaying the drama and concentrating more on the prose and personal reflections. The Way of the World unfolds slowly with passages of lyrical sweetness and no histrionics. Thierry and Nicolas remain friends but the latter's hatred of the former's ability to sleep in all circumstances becomes pathologically funny as the book goes on. Still, Nicolas doesn't complain about anything much until late in the book when he goes on a hilarious 3 page Jeremiad against the effrontery of the flies of Asia. Sleep also becomes a bit of an obsession. Here's a little paragraph from the Quetta section:
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Opposite the entrance to the Station View [Hotel] a very robust beggar was stretched out in the shade of a plane tree on a folded newspaper, which he changed every morning. Despite a long career as a sleeper our neighbour was still looking for the ideal position which very few people attain in this lifetime. Depending on the temperature he tried out variants evoking in turn breastfeeding, the high jump, a pogrom and love-making. He was a courteous man when he was awake, without that gnawed prophetic air that Indian beggars so often have. There was little misery here and much of that frugality which makes life finer and lighter than ash.