Mud and Stars – Sara Wheeler

Mud and Stars - Sara Wheeler
Mud and Stars – Sara Wheeler

Mud and Stars combines Sara Wheeler’s periodic travels in and around various parts of the former Soviet Union with chapter-size biographies of some of Russia’s literary greats plus summaries of their major work(s).

She also makes interesting detours into the worlds of translation and her London-based adventures in learning the Russian language, culture and cuisine.

A good book for insights into modern Russia, and the great playwrights, poets and novelists of the 19th and 20th century – about whom I know (knew) next to nothing.

Publisher page: Mud and Stars – Sara Wheeler

Bookworm – Lucy Mangan

Bookworm - Lucy Mangan
Bookworm – Lucy Mangan

As a big reader from an early age, I really enjoyed this trip down memory lane taking a tour of Lucy Mangan’s childhood books. I’d loved many of the same ones but was surprised by how many I’d not encountered, and differences in the order in which we’d each read some of them.

The only slight snag is that I’d got Lucy Mangan mixed up with Jess Cartner-Morley (I really don’t know how!), and I really couldn’t see how a bookworm was going to transform into a Fashionista….

Publisher page: Bookworm – Lucy Mangan

Icemen: A History of the Arctic and its Explorers – Mick Conefrey and Tim Jordan

Icemen: A History of the Arctic and its Explorers - Mick Conefrey and Tim Jordan
Icemen: A History of the Arctic and its Explorers – Mick Conefrey and Tim Jordan

Easy reading chronologically ordered chapters covering the more familiar Artic Explorations including Franklin’s attempt to find the North West Passage and Peary’s claim to have reached the North Pole, and the more unfamiliar such as Andrée’s Artic Expedition by balloon and Amundsen’s by airship, and finishing up with the Artic’s role in World War II and the Cold War.

The book accompanied a BBC2 series and both date from 1998. I can’t find pages for either online.

Abebooks page: Icemen: A History of the Arctic and its Explorers – Mick Conefrey and Tim Jordan

Small Wars Permitting – Christina Lamb

Small Wars Permitting - Christina Lamb
Small Wars Permitting – Christina Lamb

Twenty years in life of female foreign correspondent, Christina Lamb, told through a series of articles and circumstances in which they came to be written.

It helps that you go to Oxford University and become friends with Benazir Bhutto, but Christina Lamb’s bravery, quick wittedness and insights are all her own. And whilst there’s a dollop of envy too,  I am not that brave.

How heartbreaking to see the book that starts and finishes with your friendship with Benazir published after her assassination.

Author page: Small Wars Permitting: Dispatches from Foreign Lands – Christina Lamb

The Cruel Way – Ella K. Maillart

The Cruel Way - Ella K. Maillart
The Cruel Way – Ella K. Maillart

Another wonderful Virago Modern Traveller’s tale, as Ella Maillart, last seen travelling from Beijing to Kashmir with Peter “brother of Ian ‘James Bond'” Fleming, travels from Geneva to Kabul with her friend and fellow traveller, ‘Christina‘. It’s 1939, and they make the journey in Christina’s Ford car. The book focuses on their friendship as much as their travels, and has been made into a film, The Journey to Kafiristan.

I love reading about adventurous women travellers of the last century, and before. Yes, they come from privileged backgrounds, even when they claim not to, but they are going against the expectations and conventions of the age, plus they are still making the effort to get out and explore the world and encounter different people and cultures, and all this at a time before Lonely Planet or the internet. One of Ella Maillart’s main sources for her journey was the 7th century Chinese Buddhist monk, Hsuan Tsang.

Much of the book follows their experiences in Persia, and Afghanistan – and it makes me long to go back to the former (and the north western areas of Pakistan –  ‘Kafiristan‘ was Maillart’s ultimate destination – ultimately unrealised on this trip, once World War II started), and saddens me that realistically I’ll never get to experience the ancient wonders of the latter. I love that part of the world, its ancient cultures and kingdoms, its place at the centre of the Silk Roads and encounters between east and west, north and south.

Abebooks page: The Cruel Way – Ella K. Maillart