Dhaka, Bangladesh
Of crossings and departures

Of crossings and departures

When the English translation of Artur Domoslawski's biography of famous Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski (A Life) was released in 2012, it came as a shock to his readers that he had 'confabulated' many facts, including the claim that he had met Che Guevera. With this new perspective at hand, one wondered whether he had exaggerated his observations on Russia in Imperium or of the civil war in Angola (Another Day of Life). The excesses notwithstanding, a reading of Kapuscinski-or Bruce Chatwin (In Patagonia, Songlines) for that matter-'captured atmospheres', and that seemed to be enough. So, what is the state of travel writing now? Granta magazine, which has had a long association with 'creative non-fiction,' tries to answer this question in its latest edition, Journeys (138). As publisher and editor Sigrid Rausing, explains in the introduction, "Travel writing is about place, but it is also usually, one way or another, about people, the inhabitants of those places to which the author travels." Thus, can any writing be "innocent of objectification or misrepresentation? Every piece of text is a story, and every story has a point of view, with its own preconceived notions, potentially harmful (or beneficial) to others." Asked 'Is travel writing dead?', a host of writers including Mohsin Hamid (whose Exit West, a surreal tale of love in the time of war, is just out), Colin Thubron, Pico Iyer, Geoff Dyer say, "Yes and no. Sort of." As Dyer points out, with information seemingly so readily available, "travel writing, a form of writing about departures, about leaving the known in order to venture into the unknown, could become a stay-at-home genre. Any successful travel book should involve some kind of departure, from previously visited ideas of the travel book." Hamid finds all his writing 'travel writing,' having spent time all over, from California to London to New York to Lahore. "Travel writing... can no more die than curiosity or humanity or the strangeness of the world can," quips Pico Iyer. Amid all this is Xiaolu Guo's fantastic journey as a writer (Well done, No. 3777, an account of her trip to Beijing from a village in the south to study at the Beijing Film Academy) and former Granta editor and veteran journalist Ian Jack's assertion that while travel writing isn't dead, "it isn't what it used to be."

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