Literary Trips 2: Following in the Footsteps of Fame

Overview

2001… what better year for a foreword written by Sir Arthur C. Clarke? The venerable master of Science Fiction and long-time resident of Sri Lanka kicks off a second exotic feast of literary adventure that transports both the reader (vicariously) and the traveler (as a practical guide) around the world. The second volume in the Literary Trips series again raises the bar for the very best in travel writing. The original stories by renowned writers about their favorite authors are complimented by charming and ...
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Overview

2001… what better year for a foreword written by Sir Arthur C. Clarke? The venerable master of Science Fiction and long-time resident of Sri Lanka kicks off a second exotic feast of literary adventure that transports both the reader (vicariously) and the traveler (as a practical guide) around the world. The second volume in the Literary Trips series again raises the bar for the very best in travel writing. The original stories by renowned writers about their favorite authors are complimented by charming and original illustrations of their subjects and evocative photographs. The book is unique in also providing enough comprehensive guidebook information to enable the reader to plan and execute his or her own trip.

The Literary Trips series was conceived and compiled by acclaimed travel writer Victoria Brooks. Victoria visited Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka to write the opening chapter for Literary Trips 2, as she did with literary lion Paul Bowles (Tangier) in the highly acclaimed first volume. The remarkable (and alive and kicking) Arthur C. Clarke contributed the foreword for Literary Trips 2 -as Paul Bowles did in his last piece of writing for the original volume. The series seeks to inspire the wanderlust of readers and is aimed squarely at both armchair readers and travelers.

Literary Trips 2: Following in the Footsteps of Fame invites the reader to uncover the mysteries of Franz Kafka's Prague. Tarry on the docks of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row. Scurry with the street urchins of Charles Dickens's London. Heckle a thespian at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Swing a scythe with the field hands of Leo Tolstoy's Russia. Get away from it all at Walden Pond with Henry David Thoreau. Dream of the future with Arthur C. Clarke. Walk Saigon's tamarind-studded French colonial streets with Graham Greene.

The original volume in the Literary Trips series has received extensive media coverage, including glowing reviews on NPR, in USA Today, Condé Nast Traveler and The New York Times, which called it "practical information that true devotees can devour." The Chicago Tribune proclaimed Literary Trips "irresistible."

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Editorial Reviews

Conde Nast Traveler
CUBA: Hemingway spent more than 20 years in Havana, where he befriended notable locals, quaffed many a mojito, and penned several of his novels. Literary Trips (Greatest Escapes.com Publishing) focuses on this and other destinations frequented by writers like Papa, and offers helpful service information (you too can sleep where Tennessee Williams once did) as well as evocative musings.

From the November, 2000 "Top 100: The Best in the World" issue

Toronto Star
The feet that are being followed belong to outstanding literary figures. The feet following them are exceptional travel writers.
Library Journal
Like the first volume (Literary Trips, LJ 9/15/00), Volume 2 combines essays on prominent authors and the places they were known for, followed by "The Writer's Trail," which provides practical travel information for those who wish to follow in their footsteps. Both volumes are edited by travel writer and web-'zine editor Brooks, who selected various professional travel writers to compose the entries. Thus, the writing is of uneven quality, and the scope of the entries varies; some tend to be personal travelogs, while others focus more on the history of the place and the lives of the writers. This new volume, which includes chapters on Sir Arthur C. Clarke's Sri Lanka, John Steinbeck's California, Beatrix Potter's Lake District, and Franz Kafka's Prague, is nonetheless an enjoyable read. Longer, more detailed essays would probably have been better for those who actually want to visit these sites, but the essays do give readers the flavor of the places. Recommended for large travel collections. Kathleen Shanahan, Kensington, MD Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Literary Trips: Following In The Footsteps Of Fame is a superbly presented compendium of observations, adventures, and travels of and by some of the best loved writers as they trekked around the world. A magnificent armchair travelogue, Literary Trips is divided as the world is: Africa to Australasia (Paul Bowles, T. E. Lawrence, Rohinton Mistry, Bruce Chatwin); North America: West (Malcolm Lowry, The Beats, D. H. Lawrence, Garrison Keillor and Sinclair Lewis); North America: East (Tennessee Williams, Margaret Mitchell and Tom Wolfe, Ayn Rand, Mark Twain, Elizabeth Smart); Caribbean and Latin America (Ernest Hemingway, Ian Fleming and Noel Coward, John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood); Great Britain and Ireland (W. B. Yeats, Jane Urquhart and the Bronte Sisters, A. A. Milne, Agatha Christie and Jane Austen); Continental Europe (Knut Hamsun, The Lost Generation, Mary Shelley). Highly recommended for both school and community library collections, Literary Trips is enhanced for the reader with a section on biographies and a "user friendly" index. A novel and original feature of this publication is that any of the chapters are available as separate, individual e-texts and downloadable from the GreatestEscapes.com website.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780968613719
  • Publisher: GreatestEscapes.com Publishing
  • Publication date: 4/28/2001
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 11.08 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Sri Lanka's Sahib of Serendipity

Victoria Brooks


I was introduced to science-fiction grandmaster Sir Arthur C. Clarke's adopted homeland on the long, wet tongue of Sri Lanka's seemingly endless political monsoon. Like watching my first screening of a subtitled Sinhalese film, the experience performed a cacophonous dervish on my senses that threw me into a state from which I fear I may never quite recover, and will certainly never forget.


* * *


A few miles from where I rest in my elegantly shabby Galle Face Hotel room, a baby cuckoo falls from its nest, landing, as luck and serendipitous occurrences would have it, in the well-tended Colombo tropical garden of noted futurist and writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Winner of science fiction's three highest tributes and author of some 80 books, including 2001: A Space Odyssey and Childhood's End, Sri Lanka's most famous resident is also a science writer, adventurer and adventure writer, treasure-seeker and collector, entrepreneur and philanthropist.

    I arrive in Colombo only a few hours before sunup, in torrid heat, to endure a 22-mile taxi ride from Bandaranaike International Airport, a ride that bumps and jounces over pockmarked streets and is disrupted further by mandatory and makeshift checkpoints padded with sandbags and manned by air force, army, navy, and antiterrorist commandoes, their faces annihilated by night shadows. All are armed with flashlights, flack jackets, and rifles. They are checking identification papers—hunting forTigers.

    Far to the east, in Yala National Park, leopards stretch and fret and growl. They wile away the late afternoon on smooth, high rocks that bask like dark pools in the flickering light, or glitter like oil beneath falling rain. Once lions roamed this diverse and beautiful island, but now the great golden beast that represents Sri Lanka's Sinhalese is extinct and only visible on sunset-colored billboards emblazoned with Lion Lager's audacious slogan: PUT A LION IN YOU.

    There are no tigers in Sri Lanka except for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The LTTE or Tigers have terrorized Sri Lanka since 1983 when the southeast trade winds conveyed on their dank breath an anti-Tamil government-fueled pogrom that devastated Colombo's Tamil areas. Sri Lanka's majority ethnic group, the Sinhalese, backed by government troops, have been battling these shadowy separatist guerrillas ever since. Their methods are extreme: suicide bombers and surprise attacks. Their weaponry is modern: T-56 rifles, grenades, and rocket-launchers. The Tigers fight ferociously in this ethnic civil war for a separate and independent homeland in the north and east where they are based. They accuse the majority Sinhalese of widespread discrimination against Tamils. More than 60,000 people have died in the conflict so far.

    The 3.2 million predominantly Hindu Tamils are a minority in Sri Lanka's 18.6-million population. The country's Sinhalese, the ruling majority at 69 percent, follow the teachings of Buddha, the government-approved religion. Buddhism has thrived in Sri Lanka for millennia except for a brief 75-year-period in the late 10th and 11th centuries when it was suppressed by a Hindu dynasty from nearby Tamil Nadu.

    To my untrained eye there seems little, if any, difference between the physical appearance of a Tamil and a Sinhalese. They are all Sri Lankans, renowned worldwide for their physical beauty. Beauty or not, for nearly two decades Colombo has been in a continual state of emergency.

    By the time I arrive to see Arthur C. Clarke, the Tigers and the government troops have begun battling it out at Elephant Pass, the narrow land bridge that leads to the hotly contested Jaffna Peninsula and the Tamil city of Jaffna. The area is a Dry Zone; War Zone now. The off-limits north lies 125 miles up Highway A12, a desolate journey north of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka's ancient capital 2,500 years ago and the apex of Sri Lanka's cultural triangle. Anuradhapura is also the partial setting for Clarke's novel The Deep Range (1957), one of whose characters is a Buddhist monk.

    Another bleak, meandering road leads 72 miles east to the port of Tricomalee, a favored diving spot that intrepid voyageurs like Clarke can no longer explore. In 1970 Clarke and his company Underwater Safaris introduced the three Apollo 12 astronauts to those fecund depths—after the astronauts returned from the moon's barren landscape.


* * *


As I look out at Colombo's famous Galle Face Green, all thoughts of civil war fade. I admire two young men, lean and brown-muscled in white cotton boxers and scoop-necked undershirts, stretching under a fast, light sky shot through with orgies of marigold-stained clouds. In Sri Lanka there are two seasons: the Siberian High with its northeast trades, and then the May-to-September Mascarene High. It is very near May now, and the southeast trades churn the island's waters off the south and west coasts, the areas still open to travelers.

    My choice of hotel was determined months earlier when Clarke, in his forward-thinking way, e-mailed me with the message: "You must definitely stay in the Galle Face Hotel." During an electricity blackout in 1996, Clarke moved into the hotel to write his latest bestseller 3001: The Final Odyssey. He was one of a long line of illustrious people who have stayed at the hotel and whose photos line the walls of the office once occupied by the late Cyril Gardiner, the hotel's manager. Among the famous faces are those of Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II, a youthful Prince Philip, and Indian leaders Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv, the latter assassinated in 1991 by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomb. An oil painting of Clarke is mounted among the photos.

    Three floors below my room is the 132-year-old high-ceilinged, open-air lobby with two tiny square pools cut into the floor. These ponds are fragrant with jasmine, a tree that cartwheels with pink, blood-red, or velvety white blooms on Colombo's already leafy boulevards. A glass-encased bronze bust of Clarke, the great leveler himself, stands near the ponds. Clarke is credited with bringing science to the masses and science fiction into the realm of literature.

    Sri Lanka, a name that means "hallowed island," was known as Ceylon until the Democratic Socialist Republic was formed in 1972. Before it was called Ceylon by the British, Muslim traders referred to it as the Land of Serendip. Still earlier, the ancient Greeks and Romans dubbed it Taprobane.

    Clarke's journey to Sri Lanka was more indirect and far more enduring than my own. Back in 1943, a bespectacled, tall, and gangly 28-year-old officer and instructor of the No. 9 Radio School (Yatesbury) in the British Royal Air Force packed his bags and raincoat for an assignment to a foggy airfield at the southern tip of England. In seclusion he worked with the young American physicist Luis Alvarez, inventor of the ground-controlled approach (GCA) talkdown system, a radar device that could bring down an aircraft, in Clarke's words, "in one piece, instead of several." Clarke credits that mysterious assignment with allowing him the time away from the war to work out the principles of communications satellites (Comsats).

    In the spring of 1945, Clarke wrote a four-page memo on "The Space Station: Its Radio Applications." In it he predicted—one could say invented—the radical idea that radio transmitters carried by an artificial satellite could provide low-cost communication around the world. He suggested the exact longitudes and conditions (the Clarke Orbit) for the station's placement. The paper was published in the October 1945 issue of Wireless World—and the world has looked up to space and to Clarke ever since.

    Clarke's scientific ideas were published 12 years before the Russians launched Sputnik, the first artificial communications satellite carrying a radio transmitter; 17 years before Telstar, the first communications satellite; and 30 years before the first experimental broadcasting satellites—each proving Clarke's predictions exactly.

    It is 5:45 in the morning Colombo time. I unlatch the massive casement of my windows, pushing them wide to the sea-heavy air, to the sounds of gulls and crows swooping past my balcony. The sun commences its habitual yet perpetually seductive ascent. It is a moving masterpiece of special effects reminiscent of the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the classic collaboration between Clarke and the ingenious director Stanley Kubrick.

    By noon Clarke's Colombo will be an inferno of heat and seething traffic led by shoeless bajaj drivers tooting and threading through a mélange of suited businessmen and half-naked beggars, bicycles, trucks, motorcycles, cattle, and cars. But now, on Galle Face Green, the expansive yellow square that sleeps peacefully beside the restless Indian Ocean, a lone driver grabs at a few last dreams in the breezy back seat of his Jetson-like three-wheeled taxi. A length of Indian madras covers him. The soles of his feet are callused and bare.

    I have risen early to watch the city stir into life and to go through my notes. I am excited as well as nervous about meeting this amazing man, sometimes referred to by his legions of fans as ACC. After being knighted in Colombo by Prince Philip (New Year's Honours List) in early 1999 for "Services to Literature," Clarke remarked in his tongue-in-cheek Internet Ego-gram: "I regarded this as a compliment to the entire genre of science fiction as much as to myself. The Eng. Lit mandarins could put this piece of news in their pipes and smoke it!"

    Later I will learn that Sir Arthur also awakened early on the morning of my arrival. After rising, he is dressed by Wickie, his valet, and begins his daily routine. The morning is fresh and he has not yet gone to his computer (a gift from CNN for live cybercasts) to open his 50-odd morning e-mails, answer calls from old friends like Rupert Murdoch and Walter Cronkite, or glance out his window to see a baby cuckoo fall from its nest. That incident causes him to think about the odd habits of the cuckoo and how it makes its home in another bird's nest. Letting out a short burst of laughter, he realizes he and the cuckoo have something in common.

    Throughout the day he will work on some 30 projects in various stages of completion. His routine is broken only on Sundays when he is chauffeured around Sri Lanka's capital in his beautiful red Mercedes, imported duty-free under the Clarke Act. This clever bit of legislation, passed in 1976, made him Sri Lanka's first Resident Guest and was a move to save him from paying killer local income tax and not be double-dipped elsewhere. In his autobiographical The View from Serendip (1967), Clarke wrote in frustration: "Yet I still had to spend at least six months in every year out of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), otherwise the local tax laws would have ruined me."

    Weekends for Clarke are a time to gallivant: to an important gallery opening, or to a convocation at Sri Lanka's Arthur Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies at the University of Moratuwa, where he has acted as chancellor for more than 20 years and been reappointed by successive governments of various political stripes. He might attend an embassy luncheon; visit Colombo's hospital for soldiers wounded in conflict, an institution that counts him among its patrons; or stop at the Animal Welfare Association. On most Sundays for the past half century, he has made his way to Otter's Aquatic Club to enjoy a soft drink and a rousing game of table tennis.

    Clarke's bid to make Sri Lanka his home wasn't easy. As well as having to deal with the volatile nature of Sri Lankan politics and tax laws, he experienced financial difficulties brought on by the uncertain income derived from his diving business Submarine Safaris and by the shortcomings of his then partner, the now-deceased Mike Wilson, who was hopeless at accounting.


* * *


The word serendipity, according to Horace Walpole's 18th-century fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, means making an important discovery while searching for something completely different. It was serendipity, coupled with an all-consuming fascination with space, that brought Clarke to his adopted island nation.

    By the late 1940s he had purchased his first snorkel and flippers. As he once described it, they were a "cheap and simple way to experience the weightlessness of space travel—or something very close to it."

    Clarke was on his way to Australia's Great Barrier Reef to meet Mike Wilson for a diving expedition when he discovered Sri Lanka. The year was 1955. He later wrote: "The Great Barrier Reef had been my objective when, almost by accident, I paused at Serendip for a single afternoon! Even when, a year later I returned to write The Reefs of Taprobane (1957), I still did not know what I had discovered, for the excitements and distractions of the outside world (indeed, outside worlds) clouded my eyes."

    Wilson and Clarke endeavored to stay on, lured by the spectacular underwater reefs, the temperate climes, the culture, and a rich sense of the past. (Clarke collaborated with the British-born Wilson on five works of nonfiction based on their underwater adventures.) Sometime later Clarke recalled: "Though I became steadily more involved with the country, returning as a tourist at least once a year, it was not until the late sixties that I found it more and more painful to say goodbye, and felt completely happy nowhere else on earth."

    In 1962, not long after Clarke's first brush with ill health, the science-fiction writer and his partner raised a cache of shining Arabian coins of pure silver from beneath the treacherous Great Basses Reef on Sri Lanka's south coast. The feat was chronicled in Clarke's 1964 out-of-print book The Treasure of the Great Reef.

    Now, at 83, Sir Arthur's daring encounters with sea creatures and sharks, "great beasts cruising, gills opening and closing like vast venetian blinds," and his watery meandering through skeletons of shipwrecks, appear to be over. With style and vigor, Clarke continues to play a winning game of Ping-Pong, although in 1999 he was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome and is confined to a wheelchair. Today he must play propped up against the table—a position that forces him into a slightly illegal serve.


* * *


There are Tigers in Sri Lanka.

    North of my window and Galle Face Green, the Fort area awaits the day, and with it the crowded omnibus of humanity that will enter Colombo's rather lackluster commercial center with its boxy office towers; Hilton, Galadari (formerly the Marriott), Oberoi, and Taj Samudra hotels; and indoor shopping mall. Few reminders remain of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonial periods. But tragic events continue to occur.

    In October 1997, in the rheumy eye of the Siberian High, the time when brief, intense rainfalls deluge the narrow streets, when tourists and locals scurry for shelter in buildings and under doorways, Tiger bombs blasted Colombo's three international hotels, killing 15 people and wounding more than 100. After a relative lull in 1998, there has been a resumption of terrorist attacks.

    I recall the warning posted on the British embassy Web site before my trip: "It is recommended that travel within the Fort area only be undertaken on urgent business." But here I am, and Sir Arthur, too. Clarke is accustomed to the threat that plagues this gorgeous little island that hangs like a fallen tear off Mother India's face. He is no stranger to danger, nor is the specter of death brought on by disease alien to him. In the Fort's 545-square-yard heart beats the Pettah (outer fort). Here, remnants of Colombo's past glory as a cinnamon port for Arab traders flutter like tattered flags in the tiny, crowded shops and maze of narrow lanes. The Pettah has always been cursed with pickpockets, but more recently the danger quotient has risen. On April 21, 1987, a bomb at Pettah's central bus station blew through the bazaar, killing 120 and injuring 298—all civilians.

    While shopping in the Pettah's bazaar in February 1962, Sir Arthur walked into physical danger of another kind. In The Treasure of the Great Reef, he deadpans: "I conducted an unsuccessful experiment to see if two objects could occupy the same space at the same time. One was a doorway and the other my head." The next day he was completely paralyzed and barely able to breathe. The prognosis from Colombo physicians was spinal injury. A full recovery was uncertain.

    Eventually, though, he was able to sit propped up in a chair, and there, in excruciatingly slow squiggles, he penciled an adventure novel for juveniles and adults. Dolphin Island (1963) drew on his exploits on Australia's Great Barrier Reef and on Ceylon's teeming coast. "When it was finished I felt rather sad," he told Neil McAleer, his biographer, who quoted him in Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography. "I could not help thinking it was my farewell to the sea," he added.

    It was a year before Clarke completely recovered, but he found the strength to travel to India to accept the Kalinga Prize for science writing, a prestigious award administered by UNESCO. By the following year, the unstoppable Clarke was back in the sea engaging in what every child and adult has dreamed of doing: raising sunken treasure.


* * *


I am expected at Barnes Place. An automatic gate à la James Bond opens with an electronic whir as I approach the door marked ARTHUR C. CLARKE. The exterior of the large house is stucco with much glass. The Iraqi embassy is next door. The Norwegian embassy is barely three blocks away. The Norwegians are involved in peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers. This district, too, is rife with danger. As I climb a narrow indoor staircase that leads to Sir Arthur, I notice, and remember later with protective satisfaction (for Clarke), an electric wire running up the window of his office.

    Wickie ushers me into Sir Arthur's inner office where I find the author at work. He has just completed directing a small humanitarian effort: the tiny cuckoo he witnessed fall earlier this morning has been returned to its adopted nest. After he tells me about this odd incident, he says, "The most important things in life are pure chance and coincidence, it seems to me." That is his life philosophy.

    To Sir Arthur's right is the computer that bleeps constantly, signaling that another e-mail message has arrived. I present Sir Arthur with my token gifts: maple syrup and British Columbia smoked salmon, a reminder of the underwater world he has written about so enchantingly.

    I am instantly charmed. Sir Arthur sports a sky-blue short-sleeved shirt, unbuttoned from his collar almost to the gentle rise of his stomach. (He is human and makes reference to his caloric battle in Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds: Collected Essays 1934-1998.) A plaid cotton sarong is wound around hips that sit snugly between the handles of his wheelchair. The cloth covers his legs and bare feet. Both shirt and sarong are clean and pressed, and by their softness I know they must be his daily favorites.

    Underneath his shirt and snuggled to his pale chest is a one-eyed Chihuahua, a dog that fits in a teacup. Sir Arthur pets the nine-year-old Chihuahua's short coat with gentle fondness. "I brought the little character from Singapore as a present for my adopted nieces," he offers in his animated, gravelly voice, the words delivered in elegantly accented English.

    The one-eyed Pepsi resembles the miniature dogs sold in the back pages of comic books during my own childhood. Clarke read more substantive material when he was growing up. He sparked his superior intellect with the science-fiction magazine Astounding Stories of Super-Science. He credits that publication with teaching him about the multidimensional world and the concept of expanding the universe, among other scientific theories.

    Sir Arthur's blue eyes dazzle behind the lenses of his metal-framed glasses. His eyes and open smile are effervescent, and he laughs frequently with boyish pleasure. When I ask him what he attributes his great success to, he answers gleefully, "A careful choice of parents and a lot of luck."

    With talk about family, I am sent to meet the Ekanayakes, his self-chosen extended family. On the way I quickly pass the Yorkshire terrier that took little Pepsi's eye out in a jealous rage over Sir Arthur's affections. The terrier is banished to the main floor while the Chihuahua enjoys Sir Arthur's spacious upstairs office. If the civil war wasn't such a serious matter, I would be tempted to make a few jocular comparisons about ethnic squabbles.

    The interior of the house the Ekanayake family shares with Clarke feels very much like the tropical interiors immortalized by Somerset Maugham. The curved backs of the chiseled teak couch and chairs are inset with woven rattan, pale and breezy. Ceiling fans rotate like tops and purr like well-tended electric kittens. The decor is graced by the touch of Valerie, Hector Ekanayake's attractive Australian wife and mother of Sir Arthur's three almost grown "nieces."

    Hector is Sir Arthur's right arm and, since 1973, he's been an associate in the writer's renamed diving company, Underwater Safaris. That was the year Clarke's earlier partner, Mike Wilson, went off the rails, left his wife to become a monk, got into drugs, and died of an overdose. The details remain fuzzy, even to those who knew the freewheeling and financially irresponsible Wilson.

    A former boxer, Hector has a strong jaw that is visible under his neatly trimmed beard rivered with the silver that comes with age and responsibility. I am not surprised when he tells me he was the youngest flyweight ever and went on to win Ceylon's championship in that class in 1956. Like Muhammad Ali, with whom Hector has been photographed, he stung like a bee and floated like a butterfly. Hector and Sir Arthur struck up a friendship a year after the championship bout when the young Sinhalese worked at a U.S.-sponsored agricultural show in Colombo. Over the years, Hector became indispensable, helping Clarke with projects, accompanying Clarke and Wilson on diving expeditions, and eventually learning the diving business.

    In 1986, while attending an H. G. Wells symposium, Clarke was stricken once again by illness. London's National Hospital for Nervous Diseases diagnosed Lou Gehrig's disease, a degenerative motor-neuron affliction of the brain and spinal cord. The physicians gave Sir Arthur 18 months to live. Hector, ever Sir Arthur's bulwark against adversity, took him home to Barnes Place and, with physiotherapy and massive vitamin intake, Sir Arthur proved the physicians wrong. These same physicians have diagnosed post-polio syndrome, not the spinal injury sustained while shopping at Pettah in the 1960s, as the source of his current debilitation.

    After my visit with the amicable Ekanayake family, I am whisked back to Sir Arthur who, even with his boundless energy, can only speak for short periods before he becomes breathless. With a pleasant guffaw, he shows me the printed replies he has ready for his mountain of mail—the "Kindly drop dead" letter or the more polite "You may resume breathing" version. He does few interviews and has made a point of not writing forewords or introductions to books. As we speak, he decides to turn down the offer to be namesake to a science-fiction magazine: "Don't want to take away Isaac Asimov's thunder." The late Asimov was one of Clarke's dearest friends and is often in his thoughts. Unlike the once-peripatetic Clarke, Asimov had a fear of flying and never visited Sri Lanka, but he did pen this limerick:


Old Arthur C. Clarke of Sri Lanka
Now sits in the sun sipping Sanka
Enjoying his ease
Excepting when he's
Receiving pleased notes from his banker.


    Our amiable conversation is punctuated by e-mail messages, telephone calls, mail delivery, and the constant comings and goings of Clarke's eight Sri Lankan secretaries. I soon realize Sir Arthur is no recluse, nor typical expatriate writer. He is a happy and sociable man if ever I've seen one. The whole world keeps in touch with him: Walter Cronkite ("I cohosted with Cronkite on CBS during the Apollo missions"), Rupert Murdoch ("The poor guy has prostate cancer"), Buzz Aldrin ("Visited me in hospital at Baltimore ..."), and other famous and not-so-famous friends.

    Sir Arthur returns a call to Elizabeth Taylor in London. She, he informs me, is also in a wheelchair. Taylor starred in the 1954 movie Elephant Walk after Vivien Leigh had a nervous breakdown attributed to watching a Sri Lankan spirit dance while she was on location here. Leigh believed she was possessed.

    The lovely Taylor never set foot in Sri Lanka. Her scenes were filmed on a London set. While I was with Sir Arthur, I didn't feel I was in Sri Lanka, either. I could have been on a studio set with all his stars milling around; walking on the moon with the astronauts; planning the colonization of Mars, or just wheeling about in Clarke's soaring and limitless imagination—one that oddly, to me, is solidly grounded in scientific fact.

    Sir Arthur directs me to his walls: they are thick with photographic memorabilia. I marvel at happy photos of him with Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin; with Stanley Kubrick, taken in 1966 on the 2001 set; with his close friend the late science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein and his wife, Ginny, in 1980 at Sir Arthur's Colombo home; and with his adopted "daughter-in-law," Valerie Ekanayake, Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford, arms draped around one another's shoulders. In another photo, Sir Arthur is resplendent in a collarless Nehru-style suit at the 1984 Hollywood premiere of 2010 with Ray Bradbury and Gene Roddenberry. And then, the happiest photo of them all, Sir Arthur with the youngest Ekanayake, Melinda, on his lap. On his right is his Rock of Gibraltar, Hector Ekanayake, and behind the two patriarchs are the almost-grown girls, Cherene and Tamara, and their mother, Valerie. This "family" portrait was taken in 1992 on a visit to Minehead-by-the-Sea, where Sir Arthur was born in 1917 under an auspicious star.

    "What do you love most?" I ask the mythmaker, trying to ground us in Sri Lanka. "And what keeps you here?"

    "The Ekanayakes," he replies, not hesitating.

    The conversation bounces back to space, and he wonders aloud why he was knighted for services to literature rather than for his invention. "My communications satellite paper is much more important," he says. "It is by far the most important thing I ever wrote." Clarke then remarks modestly, "Someone else would have done so very shortly after if I wouldn't have." I can't help but be astounded at the breadth and scope of his achievements—accomplishments he attributes to coincidence and luck.


* * *


Tigers can swim (the Palk Straits to India).

    It was 1988, hardly a year after Sir Arthur's battle with Lou Gehrig's disease when, at the late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's initiative, the Indian Peace Keeping Force arrived in Sri Lanka and became embroiled in the Sinhalese government's battle against the Tigers; 1,200 Indian soldiers lost their lives. Due to Sinhalese resentment against foreign intervention, a new terrorist organization came into being. The Sinhalese JVP (People's Liberation Front), founded to combat the rebel Tigers, began a terrifying round of indiscriminate killing, even slaughtering physicians as they treated their patients. In the midst of this new threat, Clarke was honored with a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in recognition of British cultural interests in Sri Lanka. At one point in our breakneck conversation, Sir Arthur says to me as an aside: "Religion exacerbates wars."

    For the most part, though, Clarke wants to talk about science, space, and the stars, not religion or his adopted country. In fact, he dazzles me with science, something I confess with acute embarrassment I know little about. When I pose questions on Sri Lanka, he tells me it's all in his books and directs my attention to an inscribed photo: "To Arthur C. Clarke. My idol. You opened my mind to the possibilities of space travel. Stan Golden [NASA's administrator]."

    When another sarong-clad secretary is captured in Sir Arthur's orbit, he introduces me to him, simply saying, "Meet Tyron." Then he checks his e-mail again, only to discover that his computer has crashed. Oops—the communications guru has been cut off, and we both laugh like mad things at the irony. At his polite request I open the clip of the microphone I've attached to the collar of his shirt. "Even opening a clip taxes my strength," he admits with stoic acceptance, then turns back to his resurrected computer and 50 brand-new e-mails. The man who developed the concept of satellite communications is understandably addicted to communication, and I am on my own.


* * *

I am like Pepsi, a dog that must have its bone. I think about Sir Arthur and The Fountains of Paradise, his science-fiction novel set in Sri Lanka.

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

Foreword: Coming Home Sir Arthur C. Clarke ix
Acknowledgments xi
Introduction Christopher Ondaatje xiii
1 Asia to Oceania
Sir Arthur C. Clarke: Sri Lanka's Sahib of Serendipity
Victoria Brooks 1
Evelyn Waugh and Company: Arabian Adventures in the Land
of Sheba Tom Henighan 29
Anna Leonowens: The Governess and I in Southeast Asia
Mary Ann Simpkins 47
Graham Greene: Our Man in Vietnam Victoria Brooks 61
Robert Louis Stevenson: A Dream of Islands in Hawaii
Richard Taylor 83
2 North America — West
Raymond Carver: Plumbing the Depths in Washington State
Grant Buday 103
Jack London: Call of the Wild in Northern California
Susan Kostrzewa 115
John Steinbeck: A Taste of Eden in Central California
John C. Stickler 129
3 North America — East
William Faulkner: Sound and Fury in Mississippi Marda
Burton 147
Stephen Crane: On the Boardwalk in New Jersey
Helen-Chantal Pike 161
Henry David Thoreau: Building Castles in the
Massachusetts Air BrianPayton 173
Robertson Davies: World of Wonders in Ontario Burf Kay 191
4 Latin America
Malcolm Lowry: Long Night of the Soul in Mexico Ann
Wallace 207
Jorge Amado: Becoming Bahian in Brazil Joyce Gregory
Wyels 219
Pablo Neruda: Recollecting the Collector in Chile
Douglas Fetherling 233
5 Great Britain and Ireland
Maeve Binchy: Travels Through Ireland's Tara of the Mind
Tess Bridgewater 247
Beatrix Potter: A Date with Peter Rabbit in the Lake
District Pam Hobbs 261
William Shakespeare: Bucolic Days in Southern England
Susan Koztrzewa 273
Charles Dickens: Victorian London with a Twist
Christopher P. Baker 287
6 Continental Europe
Franz Kafka: Mystery and Miracle in Prague Kathryn Means 307
Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace in Russia's Yasnaya Polyana
Linda McK. Stewart 317
Lawrence Durrell: Bitter and Sweet in Cyprus Sharon
Lloyd Spence 329
Biographies 341
Index 345
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