"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
For more information about the books of Nicholas Murray
click HERE and access his website
Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Geert Mak's Slice of Istanbul Life

Is travel-writing dead?  That's the sort of question that is only marginally less sleep-inducing than: "Is the novel dead?"  Of course it isn't, but the old-fashioned travel narrative may well be so, and the sorts of travel book that work these days seem to be the ones that mix it – history, philosophising, autobiography, fiction etc etc.  Off to Istanbul shortly (volcanic ash permitting) I have just read the Dutch writer Geert Mak's splendid little book, The Bridge (2007) based on the daily life of the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn in Istanbul.  It's about far more than the bridge itself which links the old part of Istanbul where I always stay, scruffy as it is, with the newer, westernised Pera ("outside") district.  The tussle in contemporary Turkey between modernisation and tradition which has been a feature of the country since at least the era of its modern founder Ataturk, is symbolised to some extent by the bridge.

What makes Mak's book so good is that he has talked to the shabby, poor, sometimes desperate street vendors and fishermen on the bridge as well as providing a brilliant pocket history of modern Turkey in general and Istanbul in particular.  These voices are what makes the book and he lets them speak in ways that some of the classic travel writers don't always manage to pull off.  It's a short book but an excellent one and makes me want to read his longer book about Europe, In Europe.  Everyone travels now, it is said, and so travel writing doesn't work any more, because we have all been there. It might be true that the old 'traveller's tales' are harder to get away with but there will always be a role for the writer who travels with eyes and ears open and some real historical knowledge.  Geert Mak is one of them.

1 comment:

literature2009 said...

While it is true that travel writing is not as popular as it was early in the twentieth century, it has, in fact, taken a different route to include an assortment of genres and styles. According to The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing edited by Tim Youngs and Peter Hulme, "...travel writing is best considered as a broad and ever-shifting genre, with a complex history which has yet to be properly studied." (10)I would say that as travel writing took on different forms, the now more popular forms of travel accounts are transnational works of literature that register a traveler, or an immigrant's experience in a foreign land. We can see a different kind of approach in transnational literature that would highlight comparisons and contrasts between the home country and the host country. It would be interesting, though, to read early travelogues such as Wilfred Thesiger's Arabian Sands and compare them with contemporary transnational accounts.