Sunday, November 17, 2013

Five top travel books about an intense experience of a particular place

Paul Theroux is the author of many highly acclaimed books. His novels include The Lower River and The Mosquito Coast, and his renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star and Dark Star Safari. His latest book is The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari.

For The Daily Beast Theroux tagged five top books in which "what is illuminated is the landscape and the people—the place rather than the traveler or the trip," including:
Christ Stopped at Eboli
by Carlo Levi

This is one of those important books that compelled me, after I’d read it, to go to the place and see it for myself. I visited Aliano (Levi calls it Gagliano) in Lucania, in southern Italy, when I was on my around-the-shore-of-the-Mediterranean trip. It was a detour from the coast, but a memorable one. I wrote about it in The Pillars of Hercules. “He wasn’t Italian,” an old man told me in the town, speaking in Italian. “He was a foreigner—a Russian.” I questioned this. “’Breo,” the man said. At first I didn’t understand, and then I guessed at the word: Ebreo, a Jew. So everything Levi experienced in 1935, and wrote about in 1943, was still true in 1995: these people were remote, mentally and geographically, off the map in every sense.

The book describes the oddity of this educated Florentine among the peasants of a remote village in the deep south of Italy—a forgotten people, hardly Christian. Christ didn't get to Aliano, they explain to him; Christ stopped miles away, at Eboli. “We’re not Christians,” they say. They are superstitious, violent, passionate, mercurial, and secretive, with a greater belief in dragons than in any saint.
Read about the other books on Theroux's list.

--Marshal Zeringue