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Journey Without Maps (Penguin Classics) Paperback – June 27, 2006
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From the Back Cover
"One of the best travel books [of the twentieth] century."
"Journey Without Maps and The Lawless Roads reveal Greenes ravening spiritual hunger, a desperate need to touch rock bottom within the self and in the humanly created world."
The Times Higher Education Supplement
About the Author
Graham Greene (1904-1991), whose long life nearly spanned the length of the twentieth century, was one of its greatest novelists. Educated at Berkhamsted School and Balliol College, Oxford, he started his career as a sub-editor of The Times of London. He began to attract notice as a novelist with his fourth book, Orient Express, in 1932. In 1935, he trekked across northern Liberia, his first experience in Africa, recounted in A Journey Without Maps (1936). He converted to Catholicism in 1926, an edifying decision, and reported on religious persecution in Mexico in 1938 in The Lawless Roads, which served as a background for his famous The Power and the Glory, one of several “Catholic” novels (Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair). During the war he worked for the British secret service in Sierra Leone; afterward, he began wide-ranging travels as a journalist, which were reflected in novels such as The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana, The Comedians, Travels with My Aunt, The Honorary Consul, The Human Factor, Monsignor Quixote, and The Captain and the Enemy. In addition to his many novels, Graham Greene wrote several collections of short stories, four travel books, six plays, two books of autobiography—A Sort of Life and Ways of Escape—two biographies, and four books for children. He also contributed hundreds of essays and film and book reviews to The Spectator and other journals, many of which appear in the late collection Reflections. Most of his novels have been filmed, including The Third Man, which the author first wrote as a film treatment. Graham Greene was named Companion of Honour and received the Order of Merit among numerous other awards.
Paul Theroux, an internationally acclaimed travel writer, is also the author of over two dozen novels and works of non-fiction. He divides his time between Cape Cod and the Hawaiian Islands.
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It's written with a very "old school" perspective, with one foot in the 19th (or 18th) century of romantic colonial imperialism, and one foot in the pre-war 1930s perspective of deterioration, rot and things falling apart. Heavy whiskey drinking, descriptions of the festering diseases of the natives, and plethora of bothersome insects, the run down European outposts and a motley cast of white rejects fill many descriptive pages.
It reminds me a lot of Samuel Johnson's "Journals of the Western Isles" (1770s) when Johnson, who had never left England in his life, decided to go to Scotland to see what uncivilized people were like. Just as Johnson brought Boswell who would go on to write his own version of the trip, Greene brought his female cousin Barbara Greene (who remains unnamed in the book and largely unmentioned), who went on to write her own version of the trip in the 1970s called "Too Late to Turn Back", which mostly contradicts Grahams version.
I can't say I totally enjoyed this book, I found Greene's attitude irritating - but therein lies its value, as a snapshot of prewar European zeitgeist. It is reminiscent of "Kabloona" (1940), another prewar travel account to an uncivilized place (Arctic Eskimos) by a young European aristocrat, who also is deeply inward looking and finds a new perspective and appreciation for the "cave man" people he meets. It's very much a transition period between prewar and post-war attitudes and the fluctuation's back and forth, the sense of things falling apart, but also new-found perspective, make it a challenging but interesting work.
The title is derived from the fact that there were no true maps available of Liberia at the time. He relied on a caravan of native porters and a lot of guestimations as to what direction and how far it would be from village to village. Once leaving the ragged European communities near the coast, he and his party plunged into that virgin world he sought. What he describes in exquisite detail is now familiar to us via decades of National Geographics but was then, to someone who had never left Europe at that point, a culture shock. He learned to leave behind his English insistence on time table and surprise at naked, ritually scarred bodies, the persistent sound of drums and the utter poverty of villages. He did not let go his own clothes or whiskey or discomfort over rats and insects. He is eventually waylaid by sickness, and in the healing process comes out with a new, more life affirming personal vision. Though it seems as if the details of the daily marches, the insects and discomforts are so much of the same, by the end you see the impact of the experience. He found what he went looking for and more, and he was not afraid to leave some mysteries unsolved.
Greene's prose is clear as a bell and graceful. His observations of contemporary politics and missionaries, as well as the elasticity of truth in such a setting are valuable today, even seasoned with his candid biases.
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