Wednesday, April 6, 2016

European RC #7

I read this book for the European Reading Challenge 2016.

Little is the Light: Nostalgic Travels in the Mini-states of Europe – Vitali Vitaliev

Travel writing can appeal simply on the basis of topic. For instance, In the Land of the Blue Poppies fascinates because it’s a rare treat to read about botanizing in Burma and Tibet in the Twenties and Thirties. It does not matter so much that the author, Frank Kingdon-Ward, can come up with only flat, grey prose and his resolution to keep his own personality out of it is unwavering.

But topical appeal is usually not enough. Readers of travel narratives usually prefer the author to be charming, witty, and fun to be with. Vitali Vitaliev possesses all of these qualities as he travels in small European countries: Liechtenstein, San Marino, Mount Athos, Isle of Man, Luxembourg, the Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Andorra, Malta, Monaco and Seborga. The last one rather dates the 1995 book because in 2009 the main agitator for the independence of Seborga passed away. Nowadays Seborgans pay Italian taxes (or evade, like the rest of Italy), participate in the Italian administrative life, and vote in local and national – Italian - elections.

Vitaliev is a Ukraine-born Russian. Born in 1954, he was graduated from Kharkov University in French and English. He worked as an interpreter and translator before turning journalist in 1981. He worked for satirical magazine, a sure way to get into political trouble. He was either expelled or defected in 1990 and had to live by his pen and TV appearances in the UK, Australia, and Ireland.

In this book, he also tells many stories of life in the Soviet Union. The main appeal of these stories is that they give the reader a sense of how bad things were before the USSR finally just keeled over of a coronary. People could not find normal products in stores. And the less said about medical and dental care, the better. This book is worth reading just for these harrowing tales.

But he’s very good just bopping around these small countries. He has his own unique reasons for liking or disliking a place. He travels to Gibraltar, Andorra, Malta, Monaco and Seborga with his 13 year-old son Dmitri. We can feel the big-hearted affection between the two before the boy has to fly back to Oz to be with his mother.

Highly recommended.

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