The travel writings of the late Jan Morris are touted – by An Open Door’s editor Steven Lovatt, if not necessarily the assembled contributors – as a model of sorts for a specifically Welsh iteration of that literary subgenre. For the most part, these 11 writers succeed in that aim, if we take ‘Jan Morris-esque’ to mean thoughtful, passionate and sensitive to both the similarities and differences of non-domestic cultures.
An Open Door works with a fairly liberal definition of ‘travel writing’. Giancarlo Gemin, for example, did none of the travelling which occurs in The Valleys Of Venice – he is recounting the experiences of his mother, who moved to south Wales from Italy in 1951. Grace Quantock visits a former asylum in Abergavenny since converted to flats and only a short journey from her own house in Pontypool. Crucial to the narrative, though, is her experience of the outdoors as a wheelchair user and the varying navigability of surfaces: ‘travelling’ in the physical as well as experiential sense.
Other pieces are along perhaps more expected lines, such as Eluned Gramich visiting her partner’s family in Rio, Faisal Ali being taken from Cardiff to visit relatives in Somalia and Julie Bromich studying in Japan. I was enthralled by certain specks of detail and manners of approaching cultural variance (in Ali’s entry especially) while finding a few parts slight or jejune, but overall, this is a worthwhile read.
An Open Door: New Travel Writing For A Precarious Century, Steven Lovatt [ed.] (Parthian)
Price: £10. Info: here
words NOEL GARDNER