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The Traveller's Tree Hardcover – 1955
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In the preface to 'The Traveller's Tree' (written in the late 1940s) he cautions that it must not 'be mistaken for a guide to the Caribbean. It is nothing more than a personal, random account of an autumn and winter spent wandering through some of the islands ... its ultimate purpose, if it must be defined, is to retransmit to the reader whatever interest and enjoyment we encountered. In a word, to give pleasure.'
It's an accurate caveat for a book that explores the vastly different religions, languages, history, culture, agriculture and geography of several of the Caribbean islands. Leigh Fermor's description of witnessing a day-long Voodoo festival, along with a brief foray into the (hopefully now defunct) practices and rites of cannibalism, is matched by an insightful summary of the slave trade and the effect it - together with the Spanish, French, and English privateers - had on the last 200 year's history of the various islands.
Like all his other books it's an intriguing and highly enjoyable story.
I must, however, admit to being somewhat amused by the convoluted sequence of his island hopping. As any map of the Caribbean will show, Guadeloupe to Dominica via Martinique isn't a particularly logical route. Particularly when followed - again in sequence - by Barbados, Trinidad, several of the Leeward Islands and then, finally to Haiti and Jamaica.
Perhaps some of the cruise lines ought to to consider this as an itinerary?
Read and enjoy. And, if you haven't already read A Time of Gifts - from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube and Between the Woods and the Water - from the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates, go treat yourself!
An opportunity arose when a photographer friend of his, Costa Achillopoulos, asked him whether he wished to accompany him on a trip to the Caribbean and write up the text to the plates of a book he anticipated getting published. In the end the tail wagged the dog, and it turned out that the photographs accompanied the book that PLF wrote ! Anyway it was the big escape for Paddy from dreary post-war Britain and to gild the lily of this unforeseen adventure he invited his girlfriend Joan Rayner to join them.
No book written by Fermor has ever been mundane and conventional - he is hereditarily incapable of creating any such thing - and this first publication of his sets the tone for his subsequent writing. He is at great pains in the preface to make clear that his work should not be mistaken for a guide to the Caribbean. PLF's interests are historical, anthropological and architectural rather than a mere inquiry into the health of an island's economy and those assets it might have to further the development of tourism.
He is deeply concerned with the legacy of slavery. He is earnestly politically correct but always with a slightly sardonic smile, and so devotes much space to minority black communities and practices like voodooism. One is led to believe this primitive religious devotion took root in the Caribbean as a form of escapism in a difficult world where colour and class still mattered although there was no actual apartheid after abolition. He even traces the origins of the original settlers of the Antilles,the Caribs and the Arawaks, most of whom became victims of Western expansion in the 17th ad 18th centuries. In Jamaica he visits the Rastafarians and the Maroons (the latter descendents of escaped negro slaves)and the poor whites or "red legs" of Barbados.
Notwithstanding his commitment to an intellectual analysis of the social and political situation in the Caribbean at this particular moment of time - just after World War II - his magnificent descriptive powers and lyrical prose are already well in evidence and make this book an essential read for PLF devotees, and hardly a waste of time and effort for everyone else !
Upon finishing it (in spite of the bad reviews on here), I can honestly say I found it incredibly interesting. You have to remember that at the time of his visit to the Caribbean, immense changes were taking place throughout the West Indies, and the almost anthropological survey he conducts of the Windward Islands is fascinating. Moving onto Haiti and the Greater Antilles, he gives a wonderfully detailed account of the Voodoo rituals that occur almost exclusively on that island.
Overall, what you get with this book is Leigh Fermor's usual flowery, passionate travel narrative, coupled with well researched, detailed snippets of history that tie everything together. The vision of him sitting with the Rastafari in a cloud of smoke, discussing distant African kingdoms made me smile, and is so typical of this wonderful writer.
Just some weathering due to its age. I am very pleased with it, but haven't read it yet. That will take some considerable time at the rate I read!!!!
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