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The Towers of Trebizond (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – November 30, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond is an utter delight, the most brilliantly witty and captivatingly charm-ing book I have read since I can’t remember when… . Fantasy, farce, high comedy, lively travel material, delicious japes at many aspects of the frenzied modern world, and a succession of illuminating thoughts about love, sex, life, organized churches and religion are all tossed together with enchanting results." —The New York Times

"Novelist, poet, journalist, wit, and world-class diner out, Rose Macaulay was one of the most popular writers and personalities in England from the 1920s until her death, in 1958. The ebullient Macaulay was friends, it seemed with everyone. Rupert Brooke, Gilbert Murray, Harold Nicolson, John Betjeman, and Virginia Woolf were only a few of those who prized an intelligence that, though 'acid,' in Nicolson’s words, was 'citrous merely and never poisoned.'” —Brooke Allen, The Atlantic Monthly

About the Author

Rose Macaulay (1881-1958) was born in Rugby, England, into a family of eminent scholars and Anglican clerics. The second of seven children, a tomboy who hoped one day to join the Navy, she spent much of her childhood in Varezze, a small Italian seaside town, where she enjoyed considerable independence for an English child of her era. In 1894, her family returned to Britain, and after studying modern history at Somerville College, Oxford, she began a career as a writer and quickly succeeded in supporting herself as a novelist, journalist, and critic. During World War I, she worked as a nurse and as a civil servant in the War Office before assuming a position in the British Propaganda Department. There she met Gerald O’Donovan, a sometime Irish Catholic priest, novelist, and married man, with whom she had a romantic relationship which was to last until his death in 1942. Rose Macaulay was the author of thirty-five books—twenty-three of them novels—and is best remembered for Potterism, a satire of yellow journalism; a biography of Milton; her haunting post-World War II novel, The World My Wilderness; two travel books, They Went to Portugal and Fabled Shore; and her masterpiece, The Towers of Trebizond. A mentor to Elizabeth Bowen and a friend to such luminaries as Ivy Compton-Burnett, Rupert Brooke, E.M. Forster, and Rosamond Lehmann, Macaulay was a well-known figure in London’s literary world and a fabled wit. She was named a Dame Commander of the British Empire shortly before her death in 1958.

Jan Morris was born in 1926, is Anglo-Welsh, and lives in Wales. She has written some forty books, including the Pax Britannica trilogy about the British Empire, studies of Wales, Spain, Venice, Oxford, Manhattan, Sydney, Hong Kong, and Trieste, six volumes of collected travel essays, two memoirs, two capricious biographies, and a couple of novels—but she defines her entire oeuvre as “disguised autobiography.” She is an honorary D.Litt. of the University of Wales and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. 

Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Reprint edition (November 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159017058X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590170588
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #128,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An important book: this is Macaulay's last novel and one in which she reveals more of her own life, usually kept very private and guarded. Like the narrator, Macaulay carried on an affair with a married man for many years. At the time she wrote this book, she had returned to the Church of England; she herself, like Laurie (the narrator) in the novel, is inclined to the Catholic expression of that tradition. This book is a wonder: part travelogue, part comedy, it is also, remarkably, a serious commentary on faith and doubt. It deals with the difficulties, both moral and intellectual, entailed in being a Christian in today's modern world, with both church and society being what they are. This book, then, will both entertain you and make you think. For students of the English theologian Austin Farrer, I'd say that Laurie's situation in this book is an effective representation of what Farrer means by "initial faith": attracted but still divided, not ready to give full commitment to what the church stands for.
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It's always good to see an old favorite returned to print after many years. This always helps a new generation of readers to enjoy some writing that interested their previous generation. This book is touted as a very funny work, but I didn't think that it was all that humorous, at least to my mind. That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the book, because I did, very much. The characters were well-drawn, and the travelogue portion of the work was first-rate. I thought of the book as more of a meditation on religion and its meaning to various people in the story, and I just loved the word pictures that the author painted on almost every page! Humor is in the mind of the beholder, and some of the book was indeed humorous; not in a laugh out loud vein, but rather in a quiet chuckling way. The work shows its age a bit, being almost 50 years old, but that doesn't make any diference in the story line. This is a good book to read, whatever your reason, and I highly recommend it.
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Rose Macaulay's TOWERS OF TREBIZOND is unlike any other novel ever written. Basically a kind of travelogue of the narrator's travels through the Levant with her eccentric Aunt Dot, the smug Anglican Reverend Chantry-Pigg, and Aunt Dot's crazy camel (an important character in its own right), the novel comes to encompass much more: a meditation on East and West, a study of the contrasts between diffeerent forms of religion, and a very searching analysis of the need for religion in human experience. It's the kind of book you don't want to end, and even when it becomes somewhat wild and unbelievably allegorical (such as when the narrator trains an ape she acquires in Turkey to drive a car late in the work) you stay with it. It's the kind of book you can dip in again and again throughout your life: it works as well in bits and epigrams as it does as a sustained narrative.
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Format: Paperback
More than 20 years ago I first read this book.. I found it in the library in my home town, Utrecht, The Netherlands. The first sentence: "`Take my camel dear', said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass", captivated me, and I couldn't stop reading. They had to send me home (with the book) when the library closed, several hours later. I read the book several times then. I tried to find it in the bookshops, but it seemed not to be avalilable. I got it from the library again and made a cover-to-cover photocopy. Later on I lost the photocopy (my first wife insisted that she kept it when we divorced). So when, on a visit to Cincinnati, I finally found it again in one of the bookstores, I was the happiest person in the world.
It is a magnificent book. It tells the story of a British (it is a very British book) woman, probably around 35 years old, traveling in Turkey, and Syria and Lebanon, with her aunt and a clergyman. It is as ironic as the British can be, and it gives some profound insights into the crooked world of Anglican High Church clergy. But it also is a book about love, and about the struggle when a woman who is religious in principle, falls into illegitimate love with a married man. It's a book about the choices we have in life (two of the characters choose to vanish into the Soviet Union, which must have been a brave thing to write about in England in the fifties). It is also one of the most tender books that I know: there are no villains in this book, just loved ones that are slichtly off the tracks.
Also, it portrais the protagonist as a writer/illustrator of travel books, which makes us realize that the book is about Rose MacAulay: a well-known writer of travel books about the Middle East.
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Format: Paperback
The Towers of Trebizond might mislead a reader who picks it up into thinking it to be a standard travel account of a journey to Turkey and the Middle East in the 1950s. However, the famous first line "Take my camel, dear . . ." will soon warn that there is much much more to this hilarious, odd little novel.

Rose Macaulay uses as narrator the ambiguously named Laurie. Most people assume Laurie is a woman, and there is some internal evidence to substantiate this, but as other reviewers have pointed out, Laurie could just as well be a man, and in some ways, the story makes more sense if he is.

Regardless of Laurie's gender, the story revolves principally around her/his Aunt Dot, one of the great British eccentrics, and her escapades on a journey through Turkey and into the Soviet Union. Her adventures, and those of Laurie, the camel, a monkey, and various other assorted characters, are hilarious. At the same time, there is a sad note of wistfulness tand a sense of loss and deprivation that are not quite so easy to sort out.

Read The Towers of Trebizond and laugh, but you'll be pondering it in more solemn moments for a long time to come.
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