The fall of the Berlin Wall and the dramatic changes in Europe have produced a virtual industry of publications. Now comes the book we've been waiting for: master travel writer Morris's (Sydney, 1992; O Canada, 1992, etc.) uncannily astute reflections on how Europe has developed over the past 50 years.
It is 51 years exactly since Morris, then named James, a young Anglo-Welsh soldier in Trieste, first took notes on his European experience. Although Morris's 1972 gender change is not discussed directly in these writings, they offer a deeply personal and subjective view of a continent observed by a perceptive eyewitness who, it so happens, has had the added advantage of experiencing it as both man and woman. Morris's is a truly unique voice. The book consists of vignettes loosely structured under five chapter headings. It begins with "Holy Symptoms," characteristically serious but witty responses to the role of paganism and Christianity as "universal defining factors" in European history. Morris, an ardent Welsh patriot, brings a singular understanding to the subject of Europe's ethnic and geographic diversity and the bloody business of nation-building in the next two sections. The final chapters cover Europe's increasing homogenization and the six attempts to unify the continent, from the Holy Roman Empire to the European Union. Morris's understanding of both the follies and the dignity of patriotism lie behind her ability to laugh at and delight in others' idiosyncrasies. With the Germans, Morris admits to having a love-hate relationship, and her pieces on Germany's rich cultural legacy set against its Nazi past are among the most moving in the book. The glory of France she finds "insidiously seductive" because it strikes her as "perfectly humorless," whereas it is the "sycophancy of older Austrians" that she most dislikes.
For every nation, for every region or town, from Finland to Greece, Morris delivers a precise, moving, and eloquent reflection. Fifty Years of Europe is a delight.