Friday, January 27, 2012

Soldier, Sailor, Writer, Spy - Eric Newby

Newby's life was an adventure from the mundane to the extreme. He is most likely my favorite travel writer for his humor, self-deprecation and gift for understatement in the face of the most ridiculous adversity.  Amazon Reviews offers a Newby-like summation saying he "has never been bedeviled by practicality."  

Born near London, he left a job as a junior ad writer to sign up as an apprentice on a Finnish windjammer Moshulu that rounded Cape Horn from Australia to Europe.  This gave him his start for the book The Last Grain Race.   His sailing life was cut short by WWII and he enlisted in the Black Watch, an elite commando force.  He was captured off the coast of Sicily in 1942 and later escaped with the help of local Italians.  He later married the daughter of the farmer who sheltered him during the escape, which he wrote about later in his memoir Love and War in the Apennines.  After the war, he worked in the women's fashion business but soon left to climb Mir Samir in the Nuristan Mountains of Afghanistan.  More books and more travel.  He'd likely be the kind of traveling companion you'd want next to you in any adventure.  My collection of Newby is below:

1.  A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (1959).  First published in the U.S. under the title, "A Short Walk: A Preposterous Adventure."  A classic for his understatement, Newby and another friend set out in the remote areas of tribal Afghanistan to do mountain climbing.  They seem ill-equipped for the adventure but more concerned about their supply of pipe tobacco.  The final scene is worth the book itself.  Newby and his friend meet up with the legendary British explorer Wilfred Thesiger who is completely disgusted with their lack of preparation.  Bought used at the State Department 

2.  The Last Grain Race (1956).  Read this on a cold stormy night--you'll never want to leave your house.   In the dying days of sailing ships, shortly before WWII, Newby sets out on his first great adventure as an apprentice seaman to sail from England to Australia and back.  Gritty and hilarious at the same time.  Bought 
used but can't remember where.  

3.  The Big Red Train Ride (1978).  With his wife, Wanda as traveling companion, Newby traveled 6,000 miles from Moscow to the Pacific during the days of the Soviet Union.  Newby is periodically terrorized by the Russian conductress.  Interspersed with black and white pictures.  Bought used somewhere.

4.  On the Shores of the Mediterranean (1984).  Returns to many of the places he knew during the War and travels further around the Med to investigate the mysteries of Greece, Turkey, Egypt and North Africa.  Bought used--where, I forgot.

5.  What the Traveler Saw (1993).  Have two versions of this book--the first a coffee-table sized book full of Newby's own outstanding black and white photography.  The second is a paperback edition containing the same photos but downsized.  A collection of his writings from his books as well as well as magazine pieces.  Bought at the State Department Bookstore.

6.  Slowly Down the Ganges.  At the age of 45, Newby decides he and his wife should travel the 1,200 mile length of the Indian holy river.  They run aground more times that I could count and are constantly adapting to new guides, helpers but by the end have a first class adventure.  Bought used somewhere.

7.  Departures and Arrivals (1999).  More collections of his writings with his black and white photography.  Not a clue where I bought this one. 

8.  A Traveller's Life (1982).  More collections and more pictures.  Bought used but can't recall where.

9.  A Book of Traveler's Tales (1986).  A collection of excerpts of what other great explorers, adventurers and literary greats have said in their travels.

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