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A Writer's House in Wales (National Geographic Directions) Hardcover – January 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With simple elegance and grace, renowned travel writer Morris (Pax Britannica) reflects on her home in Wales, its beautiful setting and the nature of being Welsh. First in a series of literary travel memoirs, this slim and charming volume offers a crisp account of the turbulent history of the Welsh and their battle to maintain their language and culture in the shadow of their more powerful neighbor. Weaving in some Welsh poetry and lore along the way, Morris leads readers on a winding road ("didn't I say we were long-winded?") to her home. "We called the building Trefan Morys, partly after the estate, partly after the Welsh spelling of my surname; and so it was I told you to be patient! that this modest old structure, built for livestock, became instead a Writer's House in Wales." Morris delivers a jaunty tour in lively, lighthearted prose. From the scent of burning wood to the bilingual weathervane atop the cupola, readers are transported by rich, romantic detail and the author's warmth. Sweetened with her observations on the architecture, countryside, neighbors, the past and the future of her country, this little book is a satisfying brew. Trefan Morys is vividly and lovingly described: the cat Ibsen, the book tower, the "untidy yard," the mystical woods surrounding the property. Via her home, her writing and her beloved Wales, Morris defiantly preserves her identity in the face of a rapid-fire communications culture. The book is humble yet astute, homespun yet profound. (Jan.)Forecast: Fans of Morris will be thrilled to have another small volume to add to their collection, especially since she claimed that the publication of this year's Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere (Forecasts, Aug. 20) was to be her last.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Morris is an esteemed journalist, historian, and author of over 40 books, including The World of Venice and The Matter of Wales. In her latest effort, which launches this new series of travel memoirs, she writes about Trefan Morys, her country home in a remote corner of Wales. Starting at her house, Morris wanders lovingly through the history of Wales as well as her own life, and discusses how the two have combined to create the structure and atmosphere that she calls home. She walks the reader through the house, retelling the thoughts, sensations, and smells she has experienced there. When describing the kitchen, for example, she starts with physical details, then discusses the history and present nature of Welsh hospitality and food, and ends by detailing the smells of a lunch she would offer to a visitor. The historical explanations and glimpses into Welsh culture are masterfully woven into the narrative and include fascinating details, such as the recipe for sgotyn, a dish composed of bread, boiling water, and salt and pepper. This beautifully written and absorbing book is recommended for all libraries. [Forthcoming books in this series include Rubert Hughes revisiting Barcelona, W.S. Merwin writing on Provence, and more. Ed.] Alison Hopkins, Queens Borough P.L., New York

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Series: Directions
  • Hardcover: 168 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic; First Edition edition (January 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0792265238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0792265238
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,262,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on June 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In her writing career, Jan Morris has wrestled with centuries of history, mighty empires, great cities, historic expeditions, timeless cultures, and much more. And yet, for her entry in this series of 'travel' books, she leads us into one of the most magical and affecting places of all ... her own home.
This is an informal, light-hearted, and quick read (just two sessions in my Writer's Hammock in Seattle). And yet, it's also deeply moving. Morris describes all the facets of her converted stables -- a house in Wales, a Welsh house, a writer's house, and finally, a writer's house in Wales -- while meditating on life, death, history, culture, and the nature of friendship and hospitality. There's a lot packed between these covers!
As a book person myself, I responded most strongly to Morris' tour of her library -- a space chock full of art, music, and, of course, books. 'I have never counted the books in my own library,' she writes, 'but I would guess there are seven or eight thousand here, packed tight in their long white bookshelves, upstairs and down. I love them all, whatever their subject, whatever their condition, whatever their size. I love walking among them, stroking their spines. I love sitting on a sofa amongst them, contemplating them. I love the feel of them between my fingers, and I love the smell of them...' (pp. 101-2). She waxes just as lyrical about her kitchen, the stones of the exterior walls, the exposed wooden beams overhead ('marinated, so to speak, in age and hauled up here to my house to bless us all, like incense in a church' [p. 43]), the smell of smoke in the air, the view of the sea, even the poachers who steal onto her land to fish from her stretch of the river.
This book is like a hymnal.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Knight on April 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Jan Morris is a superb travel writer. She's been everywhere--Manhattan, Australia, Venice, Candada, Trieste, etc. etc.--and brings an open-minded, generous view to places near and far. After declaring last year that she was done writing, out she comes with "A Writer's House in Wales" a love poem to her own corner of the world.
Wales is rocky, hilly, wild and smack up against the Atlaantic. Its people, among the oldest of Britain's many peoples, hve clung to their language, their rocky shores, their magic for centuries against the many Saxon, Norman, and English incursions. One hopes they can withstand the latest onslaught of modern "culture".
Morris waxes eloquently about her centuries old house--once a stable--which she preserves. It is strangely modular from the heart of the house downstairs kitchen where neighbors stop to gossip and the postman drops in to leave the mail (once catching Morris descending her stairs in the buff!) to the entirely separate library and study where she does her work.
The house is delightful. The grounds overgrown and magical. Morris worships--at least metaphorically--the ancient god Pan and the book reflects that: a sensuality and sensibility that are natural, druidical and incredibly appealing. This is a quick delightful read, wherein you gain insights into a wonnderful land and a unique individual. Take the trip!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I assume the famous writers commissioned or invited by National Geographic had a severe limit on how much they could wax eloquently upon their workaday retreats-- what a profession that allows them to live as if on holiday while making a living. Unlike many of those listed in the "Literary Travel Series," Jan Morris tells of her native land. Her ability to convey the rugged appeal of the landscape, the barbed intricacy of its language, and the gruff welcome of its inhabitants makes this brief account brisk, vivid, and accessible.

She takes us, after a quick summary (you can read her "[The Matter of] Wales: Epic Views of a Small Country" for splendid, if somewhat impassioned, detail) of the nation's history, into her home, Trefor Morys, near the River Dwyfor, between the Cardigan Bay and Snowdon/ Yr Wyddfa, not far from the home not only of poet R.S. Thomas but of the chimerical red dragon fighting the white Saxon dragon in the vision of Merlin. Morris tells, efficiently and powerfully, of the appeal of mountain fastnesses, flowing tributaries, and rain-soaked slate. She captures the smells and the woods around the converted 18c stable house she shares with her partner, and where they live surrounded by mementoes of their children. One small disappointment: I do wish, given the revelations of "Conundrum" in the 1970s about her sex-change, that Morris had given more domestic context for what must have been a fascinating family to raise given such conditions, but she, except for a casual aside to the operation, remains reticent. Three decades on, a further update on her situation in this domestic haven would have been a welcome addition to this restrained, carefully composed memoir-of-sorts.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on January 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
When I lived in London, I used to escape a few weekends a month; one of my most frequent travels was to Wales. I grew to love the Wye Valley Walk, Tintern Abbey, Chepstow, St. David's, and points south. Unfortunately, I didn't make it north nearly as much, but those times I did gave me an even deeper experience of the country, almost as if the further one got from the center of the English, the more the Celtic spirit came alive. Jan Morris' small book (small in format and in actual word-count, not in impact) gives me a greater appreciation for the places where I've been, and a deep longing to return now with fresh insights and new intentions of what to see, and what to sense.

Jan Morris is a well-known writer on various topics to do with travel, literature, culture and history. Her eloquence is brought to a high pitch in this slim volume meant perhaps to whet the appetite for those who would travel, as the text is part of a National Geographic series. However, one travels not just to a place and not just to a time, but to a new venue of the spirits. Morris describes the spirits that live in the wood of the house, along the path, in the river, and in the hills. `I like to think of Trefan woods as a haven for all wild and lonely creatures.... Because of course there are ghosts around Trefan Morys - ghosts of uchelwyr, ghosts of farmhands, ghosts of poets, of poachers, of birds and wild beasts and cattle hauled from the mire. I often see figures walking down my back lane who are not there at all, like mirages, and who gradually resolve themselves into no more than shadows.'

The country and countryside is featured, but the highlight is the house itself, and perhaps primary to the old creaking house full of spirits and character is the kitchen. Quoting G.M.
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