Ends of the Earth
NAPLES! From the Greeks to the Anglo- Americans of 1943 discovering the Gallery, this great city of the south Italian coastal plain has fascinated the northerner with its magnificent sensuality and squalor. In Naples: A Palimpsest, by Peter Gunn (Chapman and Hall, 42s.), we have a superb tribute to the city, a labour of love, which correctly starts with a survey of Anglo-Saxon attitudes: 'The Anglo-Saxons perhaps have been too severely critical of Naples in the past; it is part (but part only) of our contention that a study of these very sym- pathetic people will reveal some curious quirks in our own northern attitudes.' Armed with this Perspective, Mr. Gunn examines with wit, care and learning the Roman discovery of this Greek city, skirts the millennium of darkness which followed the fall of the empire, and moves to the Angevin renaissance in a, city where the pagan values have never been extirpated. -He depre- cates the follies and the cruelties of the Bourbons, although he does place their excesses in some sort of balance by pointing out that Naples was one of the great cultural centres of Europe in the eighteenth century. In his con- cluding chapter Mr. Gunn gives us the Naples of today, still less altered than any other major Italian city, where the northerner may still live through a vast Proustian recherche of his own repressed cultural past.
Dr. David Lewis, sailing through the Viking- haunted waters of the North Atlantic, was third man home last year in the single-handed trans- atlantic race from Plymouth to New York. In The Ship Would Not Travel Due West (Temple Press, 21s.) he tells how he covered the 3,100 miles in fifty-six days, arriving at his destination after a dismasting, a grounding (Nantucket Sound), a collision (Canadian frigate) and many, many gales. No sooner was he in New York that he turned round and sailed back to Britain, making his landfall at Shetland. This is a remarkable story of high courage and skill, fascinating to the armchair sailor who attempts to share the solitude and the stresses of Dr. Lewis's voyage—not least for the detachment with which the writer describes his mental and physical reactions to a terrifying ordeal.
The Scottish Islands, by George Scott- Moncrieff (Oliver and Boyd, 21s.), is the second, rewritten edition of a book which must be the best short post-war introduction to the bigger islands from Ailsa Craig round to the Bass Rock via North Rona and Shetland. The photographs are new; but the punch of the book lies in the message the author is preaching that the 'neo- barbarism' of industrialism in South Britain has finished the islands and Highlands. Even when the prosperity of the Orkneys disproves his theses, no matter : I think it is easy to underrate the tremendous power of suction of a centralising machine such as has been evolved with particular efficiency in Britain; propaganda declared and undeclared; films . . . television and great sections of the' press: so-called education.... There is a deadly machine that has come to shape our ends.
Unfortunately, although this judgment is true in many ways, many people, alas, like the machine's products; after all, it has human operators.
Peter Kemp was a wartime special operations expert who, after organising partisan activities in Albania and Poland, was sent to the Far East. Alms For Oblivion (Cassell, 25s.) is the story of his activities in 'Siam and the Dutch East Indies, which he tells with great panache. In Siam the war was over when at last his unit was ready for action, and most of his activities were in fact concerned with fighting the Viet- minh Communist guerrillas from across the Mekong who were attempting to take over the -power vacuum left in French Indo-China by the Japanese collapse—with what later success we know from the Dienbienphu story and its after- math. In disarming the Japanese in Indonesia, Mr. Kemp tells a more simple story, and although the pace of his narrative is somewhat slowed by his digressions on Bali and the Balinese culture, his chronicle still comes off, arousing interest all the time. Tough, yet sensitive, brave but often afraid, Mr. Kemp makes the best of several worlds, writing about them all equally effectively.
Two only slightly-above-average travel books which yet have good passages and are well worth looking at. First, Winter Shoes in Springtime, by Beryl Smeeton (Hart-Davis, 21s.), is an account of the author's wanderings in China, just before the war. Mrs. Smeeton travelled out on the trans-Siberian railway and so down through Manchuria and Korea to Japan, where she took the boat for Hong Kong, her gateway into China. Good, exciting stuff, with Amblerish undertones at times. Readers of Beryl Miles's Spirit of Mexico (John Murray, 21s.) will get no devastating Laurentian insights into the country, but this competent travelogue has good descriptions of Mexico City, the central plateau and, of course, Acapulco, while filling in on the background of Spanish period colonial rule and the Revolution.
In Search of Sheba, by Barbara Toy (John Murray, 21s.), starts slowly with a journey across the' Sahara and the Congo in a Land- Rover, complete with the usual horrors of travel in Equatoria—officials, bad roads, mis- directions and, above all, the climate. But once in Ethiopia Miss Toy's book suddenly comes alive. She was the first European to visit the amba of Wahni, near Gondar, the almost legendary prison mountain of the Abyssinian princes, noted by Bruce, which forms the factual basis of Johnson's Rasselas. She got to the sum- mit by helicopter, and, moreover, stayed the night alone on this precipitous volcanic tuft where the princes were imprisoned for life (their own fault, as they would insist on intriguing for the succession). Then, abruptly, her book ends on this triumphant climax to her journey.
The Journals of Capra- in James Cook, Vol. II (C.U.P., £6) cover the voyages of the Resolution and the Adventure, 1772-75. Edited by J. C. Beaglehole from the University of Wellington, New Zealand, it would be hard to imagine a more comprehensive work than this, complete with a vast apparatus of footnotes and illustrated with reproduction of original drawings, paintings and documents. This is the raw material of exploration which led to the British maritime supremacy of the nineteenth century.