Marlowe & Co. is one of my favorite publishers. It keeps in print, in very attractive trade-paperback editions, travel books by William Seabrook, W. Somerset Maugham, Aldous Huxley, Alex Waugh, and perhaps most notably, Lawrence Durrell. Somebody at Marlowe shares my taste. All these literary classics about exotic places are by writers with vivid powers of description, who can evoke a place's past while accurately recording its present.
Marlowe has just reprinted (from its own 1997 hardcover edition) Day and Nights on the Grand Trunk Road, by Anthony Weller, and it fits right in with these older classics.
The ancient Grand Trunk Road begins at Calcutta, near India's eastern border with Bangladesh. From there it stretches 1,500 miles northwest to Afghanistan. The places it passes through read like a litany of the exotic: the Indian states of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and the Punjab; the Indian cities of Benares, Allahabad, Kanpur, Agra, New Delhi, and Amritsar; the Pakistani cities of Lahore, Islamabad, and Peshawar; and finally, to Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass.
Weller made the whole trip, following the road that "natural as a river by now...has been the principal route across the subcontinent for at least thirty-five centuries." Its history is alive for him. "Countless invaders have used it like a whip," he writes. "Four great religions Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism were born and grew up along the route. The Islamic idea of a single God spread down it. Empire after empire has fought for the road and its treasure."
Todaythe road once seen by Alexander the Great, Ibn Battutah, Clivo, and countless others, both conquerors and curious, is ruled by maniac truck drivers roaring through countless tiny villages.
And by a sharp-eyed and thoughtful observer like Weller, who notes it all and vividly reproduces the sights, the people, the faces, the incredible Indian jumble of life everything but the smells in the pages of this compelling and often moving book.
Alan Ryan, barnesandnoble.com