As The Berkshire Review has grown, we have developed certain international centers, where our writers either live or often return. Our coverage in these locations will continue to grow and become more comprehensive with time, and others will be added to them. But these are not all, you will find reports from Chicago, Madison, Wisconsin, Virginia, Turkey, and Poland. If you are travelling or looking for a place to settle, you will find this list of our local “portals” helpful.
There is a type of city, familiar but seductive, which resists writers even as its charms produce no shortage of readers. Paris, of course, is the number one suspect in the line-up. Overwhelmed by the city and its stories, writers run the perilous risk of being reduced to that style which is simultaneously vague and soppy (The American Society for the Promotion of Bad Writing About Venice was founded to celebrate such writing). Paris is too much, always too much, an excess which perhaps demands a microscope rather than an Imax camera. This was George Perec’s approach in his famous Tentative d’Epuisement d’un lieu Parisien, a book as list of all that happens in one little corner of the city. Métro insolite is much more practical, but it too is an attempt to exhaust the inexhaustible.
Il y a une espèce de ville, familière mais séduisante, qui résiste aux écrivains lorsque ses charmes ne produisent aucun manque des lecteurs. Paris, bien sûr, est suspect numéro un dans cette parade d’identification. La risque pour les écrivains, périlleux, est d’être bouleversé par la ville et ses histoires, réduit à un discours à la fois vague et, souvent, gnangnan(La Société Américaine de la Mauvaise Ecriture de Venise existe à célébrer ce vaste genre de littérature). Paris est trop, toujours trop, et c’est peut-être cet excès qui exige un microscope au lieu d’un appareil Imax. C’était l’idée de Georges Perec dans son fameux Tentative d’Epuisement d’un lieu Parisien, un livre comme liste de tous ce qui se passait dans un petit coin de la ville. Métro insolite est beaucoup plus pratique, mais c’est aussi une espèce d’épuisement de l’inépuisable.
The only real way to travel is to travel aimlessly, without a destination, purpose, or agenda. One should have only the vaguest, dreamiest intuition that the country travelled may be of interest. Once, when I was still working as a curator, my then wife and I went on holiday to a Central American country, largely because it lacked a museum, or at least a museum that would prove irresistible to either of us. We were mostly likely wrong in that assumption, but I can’t say, because we never visited the museum. Neither did we visit the capital city’s renowned German restaurant, nor did we indulge a weakness for souvenirs, although we did seriously discuss the adoption of a small mutt, who decided to follow us on a late night stroll through a port city.
The fabulously romantic life of Burton has been told in many a novel and many a film—from all of which Iliya Troyanov’s intelligent, vastly entertaining novel differs in crucial respects. Readers may recall the viscerally exciting biographical film Mountains of the Moon (1990) that followed the dangerous voyage in search of the Nile’s source and the bitter quarrels over priority in discovering that source at the Geographical Society of London. What viewers of that movie will not recall are any significantly developed characters from the indigenous peoples (what the Victorians called the natives) among whom the explorers traveled. There were a few servants whose dedication issued in sacrifice; and a few bloodthirsty attackers who executed the servants and wounded the whites—but none of these received serious treatment. Troyanov retells the story from the alternating vantage points of the white principals, above all Burton himself, and the non-English-speaking peoples through whose territories Burton voyages, whose languages he learns with incredible facility. As he seeks to understand them, they quizzically seek to fathom his motives and beliefs. The drama arises not so much from scenery and danger as from the exciting, often droll volleying of blindness and insight between the Englishman and the Asians and Africans whom he at once fascinates and bewilders.