“In my wanderings from agency to agency, imagining myself working in the various businesses, I had also gained an insight into the country’s wonderful freedom. No one asked about my nationality, my religion, my origin, and what was more – an amazing thing to imagine in our modern world of fingerprints, visas and police permits – I had travelled without a passport. But there was work waiting for people to do it, and that was all that counted.”
Stefan Zweig on America in the early 20th century. From his memoir The World of Yesterday (page 212, Pushkin Press), originally published in 1942.
A quick note here to say that my book collection has recently grown to include John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands, two defining books of the travel literature genre. I’ve now finished Steinbeck’s book and I’m a good chunk of the way into Thesiger’s work. It is interesting to note that the journeys of both, whilst vastly different in terms of transport, culture and geography, were roughly contemporaneous and each offer a personal slice of quickly changing worlds. Steinbeck notes that he hoped to learn about the population of his country, yet ultimately he comes away perhaps knowing less than he’d like being partly disgusted by the actions of some in his native country (whilst nevertheless delighting in the natural landscape), Thesiger meanwhile seeks to escape the memories of his school life and instead become deeply entrenched during his 5 years of wandering the deserts of Arabia and Abyssinia. I am very much enjoying learning about the The Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula and about the often harsh but distinct Bedu way of life, particularly as the current media focus in the Middle East is particularly negative and non-too encouraging. I’ve also recently ordered The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig, as I’ve not previously read any of his work and I’d like to get an understanding of the author before delving into his body of work.
As I’ve said before on this blog I truly believe that literature (and storytelling) is one of humanity’s greatest gifts. As such I am always happy for any recommendations as to what to read next if you care to leave any suggestions below. Happy reading!