Personal Landscapes

Personal Landscapes

Personal Landscapes: Conversations on Books About Place

Episodes

May 27, 2022 49 min

Martha Gellhorn wanted to be known as a novelist. Instead, she’s remembered as one of the 20th century’s greatest war correspondents. She wrote about what war does to ordinary people, and the despair of those who have lost everything. Biographer Caroline Moorehead joins me to talk about this remarkable woman.

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One People is a comic novel but Cousins Cove is a real village, and the stories Guy Kennaway tells were gathered during his first ten years as an idle British expat. We spoke about Jamaican culture, the legacy of slavery, and why he’s a passionate advocate for Patwa, the national language.

 

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Turn-of-the-century Vienna was a cultural crucible where the air seethed with repressed desire. No artist captured this more vividly than Egon Schiele. Sophie Haydock imagines herself into his world in her debut novel The Flames.

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W.G. Sebald has been described as “a writer of almost unclassifiable originality”. He wrote about the plight of emigrants, and in particular, emigrants from the Holocaust. His obsessions included survivor’s guilt, the nature of decline and fall, loss and decay, and the downward plunge of nature and history. I discussed Sebald's life and work with his biographer Carole Angier. 

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David Eimer is the author of the critically acclaimed The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China. We spoke about that country's tumultuous border regions, and how different ethnic minorities have tried to keep their culture alive beneath the Han yoke.

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Dervla Murphy has been described as a ‘travel legend’ and ‘the first lady of Irish cycling’. For five decades she’s travelled the world in a series of truly remarkable journeys, mostly alone and mostly on foot. I had the great fortune to speak with her a week after her 90th birthday. We talked about the loss of traditional cultures, travel in the pre-internet age, and the general state of the world.

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Nigel Barley wrote one of the funniest travel books I've ever read, and it nearly got him kicked out of his academic discipline. We spoke about the grim reality of fieldwork, his odd attraction for monkeys, and why fiction tells us more than anthropology about what it means to be human.

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Jeremy Seal is the author of six books, including A Fez of the Heart. We spoke about the infinite courtesies of Turkish hospitality, cultural divides, and the legacy of the 1960 military coup.

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John Gimlette is the author of five books, including The Gardens of Mars. We spoke about Madagascar, ‘walking the dead’, and writing about places on the margin of the map.

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Sara Wheeler is the author of 10 books, including Mud and Stars. We spoke about her travels in Russia, living as writer-in-residence on an Antarctic research base, and the reciprocal relationship between story and memory.

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Jerry Kobalenko is one of Canada’s most experienced High Arctic travelers, and the author of The Horizontal Everest and Arctic Eden. We spoke about the lure of Ellesmere, and searching for the traces of historic travelers.

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Lawrence Millman is the author of 18 books, and a master of northern writing. We talked about his book Last Places, eating bird shit in Iceland, and his efforts to preserve stories before they fade away.

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Rory Maclean is the author of 15 books, including Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries. We talk about Berlin, making a film with David Bowie, the state of Europe, and how a glimpse of the Berlin Wall formed a lasting influence on his books.

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Eland has been resurrecting lost travel classics and keeping them in print for more than 35 years. I talk with publisher Barnaby Rogerson about anthropology-lite, why the post-war period was a golden age for British travel writing, and why some of the 20th century’s most exciting writers were autodidacts.

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The novelist and island writer Lawrence Durrell believed that everyone has a personal landscape, a landscape that resonates with them on some deep tuning fork level, where you feel most at home, and where you think your deepest thoughts.

I’ve spent more than 20 years exploring such places as a traveler, and as a writer of magazine features and books.

I’m going to talk to the people who write those books and publish those books. E...

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