LindaCracknell’s Following our Fathers is an account of walking in Norway and later climbing in the Swiss Alps. In Norway they walked in the footsteps of a friend’s father who successfully escaped over the mountains from Nazi occupied territory. In the Swiss Alps she was trying to find the route her own father took, decades before. In Norway she mentions the importance of bringing their father closer, memorialising him in a walk. I always enjoy reading about Linda Cracknell’s travels but this book held a further interest for me as I’ve recently been involved in my own search for my grandfather, which I’m currently writing about.
Although I love walking, climbing ice covered mountains is far beyond my ability. So I read this kind of literature almost sneakily, aware of reading about something that I lack the courage to try for myself. For me, it’s a bit like reading about spies and acute danger in enemy territory, safe in my own home, fire burning in the grate, or a summer evening throwing long blades of light onto the garden.
Cracknell’s prose is lyrical and descriptive. She talks of the mysterious and potentially dangerous boundary between two worlds, where rock and certainty disappear under a lip of ice and of the glacier’s troubled surface, holding secrets in layers and scars, and curved scratches, burping up occasional groans. Description of their ascent is interspersed with quotations from her father’s journal and from those of other climbers, as well as her own thoughts and fears about climbing and ‘summit fever’ so that you feel invited into her experience, rather than being kept at one remove from it.
AndrzejStasiuk – On the Road to Babadag is subtitled Travels in the Other Europe, translated by Michael Kandel. Stasiuk’s fast-paced, urgent wanderings take him through his native Poland and on to Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Albania. His poetic and philosophical insights merge with the landscape, use it as a diving board to jump off from, sometimes to carry him deep into history and time.
Memories are often jumbled, sometimes breathless, as he splices narrative, abandons tracks, shuffles index cards of memory, thumbs notebooks, lifts and traditions. “I remember a hedgerow and the stone balustrade of a little bridge, but I’m not sure about the hedgerow, it could have been elsewhere, like most of what lies in memory, things I pluck from their landscape, making my own map of them, my own fantastic geography.” This plumbing of outer and inner landscape is what makes his writing vivid and alive – he catches those moments that we remember from travel – dissociated sometimes from context and narrative, seeming fragments, selected by colour and intensity. It shows the disassembling process that goes on when we travel, the vertical experiences, while we so often try to present it as a linked narrative over horizontal space.
As well as what is seen, he weaves in the process of seeing and the attempts at recollection. “I should invent a graceful story that begins and ends there, provide a first aid kit that cleverly soothes the mind, alleviates anxiety and stills hunger...when I attempt to recall one thing, others surface.”