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Warning: "Fifty years" published under a new name
on 21 June 2010
If you enjoyed 'Fifty years of Europe: an album" and are looking for more, don't buy this one - it is the same! Published in 1997 by Viking and in 1998 by Pnguin under the 'Fifty years' title, in 2006 Faber & Faber brought it out under this 'new' name. Why? Well, to make money from idiots like me, I suppose. You have been warned. Mind you, it *is* a lovely book, and here is what I wrote about the original:
Written in 1997, this is a series of vignettes (or postcards) from bits of Europe - sometimes you think from *all* the bits of Europe! - written, or remembered, from 1945 to '97. Early on, you may feel it is a rather acquired taste, like carrots with schnapps (an indulgence she committed in Helsinki, after a long spell in Russia).
Postcards of half a page, of two pages... old ladies in Portugal, Rastas in Bergen, cappucino in Vilnius; but the postcards are not isolated. They produce an atmosphere, and then you begin to feel the linkages; linkages with and through history, politics, the melancoly of Trieste, growing old. The taste is both exquisite and homely, the phrases are finely crafted, the feelings real.
Morris has been at it for a long time: as news correspondent with the Mt Everest team of 1953 he wrote the first dispatch on the successful climb of the mountain; passing through Heathrow recently, she describes this "as though conceived in revenge by some insanely disgruntled town planner". The language is both exact and playful, the jokes good, the overview great. This book is a kaleidoscope of personal tableaux, with a very personal Morris-colouring, resonating with anyone (I would think) with interest in other places. There is a Venetian saying for back-street walking, 'per le fodere', through the linings; well, this is it - and it makes you (well, me) appreciate this diverse continent, through its trains, boats, trams, backstreets and hidden corners, rivers and monuments, its mad despots and its poor farmers, through the keyboard or pen of a failed anarchist Welshwoman.
It is great, it is pithy, beautifully written, and an absolute delight.