A life in books: Dervla Murphy | Books | The Guardian

Dervla Murphy is a treasure and an inspiration:  here is what the Guardian had to say about her and her daughter, Rachel,  in a recent review

“When Rachel was nearly five, Murphy deemed her old enough to accompany her to Coorg in southern India, and they travelled together throughout her childhood. Murphy is both uncomprehending of, and appalled by, the modern cosseting of children – Rachel was once left abandoned in the Aeroflot Hotel in Moscow when her mother was struck down with food poisoning. “I did worry that she might be distraught, but when I got back she was as happy as Larry. The Russians adore children and they looked after her wonderfully. In fact, travelling with a small child makes things easier, as people are generally helpful to you. It was more difficult on our last trip together, which was to Cameroon when she was 18. It was nothing to do with our personalities, but being two adults travelling together prevented me interacting with the local people as I like to.”

Over the decades, Murphy acknowledges, her interest in probing broad geopolitical developments as they affect some of the more remote places on earth has become an increasingly potent part of her work. “I found myself very dissatisfied with the travel book that just tells the story of a journey, which my first books did. I have this interest in how people pick up the pieces after trauma and tragedy, and I think there needs to be a balance between the personal events and impressions and a bigger picture.”

She identifies the turning point as her 1981 book on nuclear power, Race to the Finish?, which she followed up with books about Northern Ireland and about race relations in Bradford and Birmingham (Tales from Two Cities). She was in Romania two weeks after Ceausescu fell (Transylvania and Beyond), Rwanda less than two years after the genocide (Visiting Rwanda), and South Africa immediately post-apartheid (South from the Limpopo) – she had been refused entry by the apartheid government.

In her 2002 account of her journeys in the Balkans, Through the Embers of Chaos, Murphy wrote about her sense of Nato intervention being part of a wider pattern of opening up world markets. She found related processes in Siberia: “I was attracted to Siberia partly because for so many years it was inaccessible to foreigners. But the multinational developers had beaten me to it. There’s a lot of construction companies in there which are all part of the same processes of globalisation.”

She says that “a letter writing segment” of her readers disapprove of the “political stuff”, but there is an equivalent group “that tells me they haven’t thought about these things in this way before and are glad that I’ve written and thought more about the political side. My view is that I have these things I want to say and I don’t really care if it spoils a pure travel book.”

The travel literature boom of the past few decades has had little impact on her. She has no agent and has always had the same publisher, John Murray. She accepts no advances and writes what and when she likes. “Occasionally young writers who want to write about travel ask if I can help. One of the things that worries me is that in the last few years I’ve read three really good books but they couldn’t find a publisher. They were extremely well written, but very quiet, with nothing dramatic or sensational, and that doesn’t seem to be acceptable any more. One of the writers was asked to insert a bit of made-up drama, which to his credit he wouldn’t do. So instead we get things like that man who ran around Ireland with a fridge. I haven’t read it so I don’t want to condemn it too much, but the idea doesn’t really appeal.”

The locations at the top of her wish list are North Korea and Iraq. “But absolutely nothing would induce me to be like John Simpson going into a war zone, so I won’t be going there any time soon.” Instead, her next book will be a companion piece to Through Siberia by Accident. “I don’t often go back, but I did fall in love with the place. While a lot of the countries I’ve been to are troubled in one way or another, they are also often staggeringly beautiful. I wouldn’t live anywhere else than my own beautiful little bit of west Waterford, but in somewhere as depressing as Kosovo it was coming across a spectacular landscape that kept me going. Siberia was also breathtaking and I had to see it again. But this time in the winter. And I’ll still take the bike.”

Sum it all up as, “And I’ll still take the bike.”

via A life in books: Dervla Murphy | Books | The Guardian.


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