by Tim Adams
As a boy in Manhattan in the early 1970s Andrew Solomon confesses himself to have been “afraid of the world”. He had nightmares about a Soviet bomb; he had fears that he might be kidnapped, and alternative fears that he had already been kidnapped without his knowing. His comfort lay in an idea of England that he discovered in fiction. This anglophilia began when his father read him AA Milne at two, and advanced through Narnia and Wonderland. He “developed a taste for marmalade and for the longer sweep of history”. He adopted, as he recalls, certain Chelsea airs: “My parents’ usual reprimand was to remind me that I was not the Prince of Wales.” It was with these kind of fantasies in mind that he travelled abroad for the first time aged 11, on a family trip that took in England, France and Switzerland. And after that he never really looked back.
This book is a collection of traveller’s tales, then, from seven continents and 83 countries. Solomon, an art historian and psychologist by training, is in the American-abroad tradition of Henry James. His voice and eye are always curious, never hurried; his sentences unspool elegantly, and are sharply alive to social cadences and cultural nuance. He travels hopefully, looking not always for tragedy or strife but for moments of commonality in extreme and conflicted places.
(To read the full review, please visit The Observer.)