Given that travel writing is a thriving sector in its own right, it is odd that on the occasion of Granta's theme being more mainstream than it usually is, this is a strangely muted and, often, quite dull and uninspiring collection. There are one of two exceptions to this and the collection does pick up quality towards the end somewhat.
Three pieces in particular I either enjoyed or found enlightening. The first of these is Héctor Abad's "A Rationalist in the Jungle" that hints at a surprising anthropological benefit of the drug wars gangs in Colombia while at the same time musing on the delicate balance between population levels and quality of life in remote villages. It's what Granta's non-fiction does best - it's enlightening, interesting and well written. Sadly though in this case it rather highlights the gaps in quality elsewhere in this edition. The other main exception is the concluding piece, Teju Cole's "Water Has no Enemy" which provides an insight into modern day Lagos from the perspective of a former resident returning as a traveller.
In fact, this notion of returning having travelled is a recurring take on the notion of Travel. However, others who attempt this, notably Haruki Murakami's tale of a return to Kobe never rise above the mundane. Perhaps it is that the most well known writers carry the greatest expectation and have the furthest to fall, but the Murakami piece and the Dave Eggers were the biggest disappointments for me.
In fiction terms, the best of the bunch here is Miroslav Penkov's story of the poor Romanies of Bulgaria putting offering babies to the rick of Europe for large payment. It's a moving and well constructed story.
As for the rest, there is nothing to either strongly like or dislike - it's just rather dull and uninspiring. And that's the problem. At least if I'd hated the content it would have stirred some response. But it didn't. I was just rather bored.
The nationalities of the list of contributors read like a United Nations gathering, which may be in keeping with the theme of travel, but may also highlight where this has gone wrong. It would seem that the drive to tick a box of another nationality of authorship has overtaken the drive to say something interesting. Overall, a disappointing edition, with only a few notable exceptions.
Only a few of the pieces contained in this quarter's Granta struck me as special. The opening story by Rattawut Lapcharoensap was a terrifying story of the abduction of a Thailand tourist, who is fleeced of everything he possesses. What is especially ironic is that he was born in Thailand, and it is a group of his own countrymen and women who leave him at the airport with his ticket home. He has lost everything else, including his girlfriend.
The Hudson River School by David Searcy is a haunting and beautiful story about a man who uses a tape of his daughter's cries as a baby to lure a particularly `dogged' coyote who has devastated a flock of sheep for two seasons - killing every one of the lambs born to the flock. His use of the tape recording represents a poignant and enigmatic resource, perhaps standing for the years of struggle and one man's dominion over the landscape. A Rationalist in the Jungle is a series of meditations on Columbia where, in the sequence titled Curses That Are Blessings: "The Columbian Amazon region has been plagued in recent decades by two of our dreadful curses: guerrillas and corruption." This situation has a bitter irony: "Fear of being recruited, attacked or kidnapped by the guerrillas has stopped land-hungry settlers from going deep into the jungle and it's been left almost intact."
Sonia Faliero's piece follows her on the track of child-traffickers. It is a story of filth and terror. At night, she lies in her disgustingly dirty room. Her voyage brought her to Bihar, in India, "...a part of the world in which children were made to do the work of adults, while adults live off their earnings." As she travels there is an accident and the police casually gather the body parts of two teenagers whose motorcycle has collided with a truck. She is investigating child labour - 28 million child labourers in India - "defined as someone under the age of fourteen performing adult jobs." It is a hopeless story of utter venality, of children who sell themselves in order to feed their families. Political processes are unknown, or unavailable. It is largely accepted as a way of life.
on 27 August 2013
Nothing outstanding in this Granta, but most pieces did what Granta mostly seems to do these days which is to offer perspective and experience far from anything most readers could normally access. A culturally different perspective is a precious thing. I do have a problem with it though and now I think about it, this problem has been coming for a long time. This no longer a British literary magazine. It has become very American in character and content aimed at an American audience. Nothing wrong with American literature, I read quite a lot of it and I am not uninterested in how they see themselves and the rest of the world. They are not all Dave Eggers with his gob smacking lack of self awareness(see his contribution to this book) ,but I subscribed 20 years ago to a different kind of literary magazine and I miss it.