Norman Lewis View of the World – Book Review

View of the World
Book Review

Title: View of the World
Author: Norman Lewis
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0 907871 43 7

When Norman Lewis died, aged 95, England specifically, and the world in general, lost one of the greatest travel writers that had ever lived. His obituary described him as, ‘…outstandingly the best travel writer of our age, if not the best since Marco Polo.’ Whilst Time Out described his writing as, ‘with a brilliance which makes all other travel-writing read like the blurb on the brochure.’

These twenty articles, written during a period of thirty years, which include such gems as an interview with Castro’s executioner; a meeting with a tragic Ernest Hemingway; a farcical trip to the Chocos of Panama; a description of a fishing community in an unspoilt Ibiza; an extraordinary story of bandits in the highlands of Sardinia, and Lewis’s famous report on the genocide of South America’s Indians show a writer at the height of his breath-taking powers.

Of the many outstanding pieces in this book, Genocide stands out. Travelling in Brazil in 1968 for the Sunday Times, Lewis uncovered the genocide being practised on Brazil’s Indians by the government agency assigned to protect them. Lewis considered the ensuing article, which prompted the foundation of the charity Survival International, the most worthwhile of all his endeavours. Despite being a quiet and unassuming man, his experiences in Brazil changed him, and the obliteration of many of the societies he had seen led him to believe that “in the face of such calamities it is not possible to keep silent, to remain a perpetual spectator”.

Nearly forty years later this essay remains superlative and it is more or less impossible to read it and not weep tears of frustration and anger � aspiring writers will also want to weep because it is unlikely that they will ever write such a powerful and astonishingly shocking piece.

The strength of Lewis’ writing lies not in his brilliant attention to detail, or the fact that he is worldly-wise, witty, charming and totally unflappable, i.e. the ultimate travelling companion, but in the sheer sincerity of his prose. He never passes opinions to his readers, never tries to exhibit or impose his learning (which really must be significant), or for that matter, “solutions” to problems. It is certainly not an easy task for a writer, especially in this genre, to express genuinely just what he has seen and felt and nothing more and Lewis is superb at doing this.

For example, when describing Ibiza long before the tourists descended, Lewis transports the reader to a land which seems almost magical. Lewis’ writings are always more than descriptive, region-specific passages and geographical mapping. In each of his essays there are countless instances in which his language goes beyond an assemblage of travel notes to reveal panoramas of grand depth and beauty. It is unusual to find even a line that is less than meticulously written or isolated from the text’s overall flow. Every person he meets is special in some way and he succeeds in revealing varied personalities like gambling housewives, dentists, fortune tellers, puppeteers, child beggars, pot dealers, lepers and many others in a unique light.

Quite simply this is a brilliant book. It’s the perfect introduction to Norman Lewis and should be high on any traveller’s wish list.

Buy it now.

  • View of the World by Norman Lewis
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