* Prices may differ from that shown
Ox Travels is an anthology of travel writing compiled to raise funds for Oxfam, but it is well worth buying and reading in its own right. Its generous 432 pages offer the chance to meet 36 writers, including travel writers, journalists and novelists, with an introduction by Michael Palin and an afterword by Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's Chief Executive.
Each writer was asked for a story about a meeting while travelling, so the stories are focused on people rather than the scenery. The editors explained that they assumed some of the invited authors would be too busy and/or away travelling, and they were surprised by the response - most of the contributions here are original pieces.
Each piece starts with a photo and a mini biography of the writer, including where and when they were born, where they now live and some of their best known or most recent books. I think this is really useful, as travel writing is such a personal form and any writer's observations while travelling are going to be informed by their own experience and origins. It also offers a good starting point for exploring further work by those involved. I was attracted to the collection by the participation of a couple of old favourites, Sara Wheeler and Dervla Murphy, but I will certainly be looking out for more by some of the new-to-me writers. There are a few photos reproduced in the text too (all in black and white.)
Just over a quarter of the contributors are women. The editors mostly invited writers who live in Britain to contribute, and there are only a handful of writers who come from outside "the West" themselves. The authors' ages range from 34 to 96, although the majority are in their 40s and 50s. Big names include Paul Theroux and Colin Thubron.
In A Cave on the Black Sea, Patrick Leigh Fermor, who recently died aged 95, writes about sharing a campfire meal with a group of Bulgarian sailors, while walking across Europe back in 1934.
One of my favourite pieces, Indian Sonia Faleiro's story Madam Say Go is a thought provoking account of the plight of a sacked domestic worker on her way home from the Gulf - she has been treated very badly but she is no one's victim, her dignity and spirit are intact whatever her uncertain future holds.
Sara Wheeler is better known for her writing about the North and South Pole, but her piece here is a reminiscence of travelling in Poland in 1981, Communist era restrictions and surprising consequences.
Dervla Murphy tells of her Tibetan friends visiting her in remote, rural 1960s Ireland - Murphy's books are as much about the stories of the people she meets on her travels and this is no exception, as she offers her guests space to talk and write about Tibet.
Raja Shehadeh writes about driving out of the city with his wife to walk in the countryside, only he lives in Ramallah, Palestine, and their journey to Galilee is disrupted by an Israeli roadblock and a soldier insisting he must search everything.
There are lots of stories here of travelling in Africa, Asia and Latin America, many about poverty and war torn areas, but on a lighter, more entertaining note, I laughed at Tiffany Murray's account of her obsession with New York City's Big Yellow Taxi cabs.
Some of the pieces here are fascinating, others not so much, in any such anthology the writing is bound to be uneven. I think though that this volume offers a lot to dip into and explore, as well as being a terrific way to find new to you travel writers.
I wrote this review for www.thebookbag.co.uk where it first appeared.
Published by Profile Books in May 2011
Price £9.99; £5.99 from Amazon in paperback or £5.68 on Kindle