There is something about the art of travel writing that seems to bring out the very best in the most skilful practitioners. The late Bruce Chatwin produced some of his most incandescent prose in his travel books (some would say even more so than in his novels), and the legacy of this kind of non-pareil work may be found in Claudio Magris' Danube
, a book which seamlessly combines sharp descriptive information with prose of the greatest transparency. Magris (whose amazing breadth of knowledge is evident on every page) takes the reader on a colourful journey from the source of the Danube in the Bavarian hills through Austro-Hungary and the Balkans to the Black Sea. At every stage of this voyage from the past to the present, Magris conjures up all the atmospheric associations of the houses, monuments and great personalities (from Marcus Aurelius to Kafka) and, in the process, produces a richly drawn picture of central Europe and a culture rich in the influences of the East and West. As in his celebrated Bohemia
, Magris effortlessly incorporates his encyclopaedic knowledge into the kind of book that both recreates a whole continent and deeply inspires the reader to investigate this territory. In fact, to call this a travel book is an inadequate attempt to categorise something that can really only be judged as fine writing.
I take a few steps from my bench downhill to the source of the Berg, then, sousing my shoes and socks, climb up through the meadow towards the house. The water glitters in the grass, the spring flows quietly out, the green of the trees is good, and so is the smell. The traveller feels rather clumsy and small, aware of the superior objectivity in which he is framed. Is it possible that all those little trickles in a field are the Danube...which pours out into the Black Sea every year?
Impeccable... Magris, a guide of enormous modesty, has not only read everything: he has been everywhere, met everybody (Nicholas Shakespeare Arts and Books Review
There is so much to praise about this extraordinary book... Irresistably enjoyable (Mark Thompson Literary Review
The finest account of Middle Europe (Daily Telegraph Observer