The World, The World by Norman Lewis

Another very nicely written volume of memoirs by the excellent travel writer, Norman Lewis. It is very different to Jackdaw Cake, which I read a few weeks’ ago. That book was written for laughs, whereas this is more serious and more considered.

It is really a travel memoir, since the episodes it describes in most detail are the author’s travels, on journalistic assignment, to South America and South East Asia. These are fascinating, reminding us of the unbelievably awful treatment of indigenous peoples by the Brazilian government in the 1960s, when the ironically named Indian Protection Service did its worst; and the nasty and messy end to French colonial rule in Indo China.

The author really has an eye for the absurd and that enlivens his prose immensely. He also makes some penetrating observations about the impact of mass tourism, the early manifestations of which he saw at first hand in Spain and Thailand. That something has been lost in such places is beyond dispute. Whether we can say life for the residents, before tourism arrived, was better is more debatable. It looks ugly to the comfortable visitor who yearns for something he or she believes to be authentic but who pays the price of retaining that authenticity all year round, to be enjoyed for a couple of weeks a year by those who can afford to dip in and out?

Sorry – enough of the cod philosophizing about travel. This is an excellent book and a very enjoyable read.

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