Welcome to Travel Readings
Melbourne: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Books, Movies and Beyond…
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Washington, DC and New York
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Rome
Rio de Janeiro: Crimes of August (Agosto) by Rubem Fonseca
Istanbul: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Liège (Belgium): Pedigree by Georges Simenon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Lisbon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Cambodia
Hyde Park, Chicago: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow
Paris: Flowers of Ruin and Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Naples
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Tanzania
Sri Lanka: Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
Books, Movies and Beyond… : Venice
Dublin: The Dead by James Joyce
Books, Movies and Beyond: Iran
Santa Cruz, Bolivia: The Matter of Desire (Materia del Deseo) by Edmundo Paz Soldán
Books, Movies and Beyond: Syria
Djibouti: Passage of Tears (Passage des Larmes) by Abdourahman Waberi
Books, Movies and Beyond: Armenia
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo
Bangkok: Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
Périgord, France: The Caves of Périgord by Martin Walker
Books, Movies and Beyond: Brussels
Naples: The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Books, Movies and Beyond: Rio de Janeiro
Tajikistan: Hurramabad by Andrei Volos
New-York: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Israel and Palestine: To the End of the Land by David Grossman and Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh
Books, Movies and Beyond: Bavaria and Southern Germany
Cape Town: Boyhood, Youth and Summertime by J.M. Coetzee
Books, Movies and Beyond: India
Blue Ridge Mountains: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Books, Movies and Beyond: Algeria
Austrian Alps: A Whole Life (Ein ganzes Leben) by Robert Seethaler
Books, Movies and Beyond: Africans in America
Zimbabwe: The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
Books, Movies and Beyond: Colombia
Belgian Ardennes: The All Saints’ Day Lovers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Côte d’Ivoire: Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
Japan: Haruki Murakami and Amélie Nothomb
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Rope and The Denial of Saint Peter by Charles Baudelaire
Books, Movies and Beyond: Cairo
Vancouver: What is Remembered by Alice Munro
Ghent (Belgium): War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans
Haiti: An Aroma of Coffee and Dining with the Dictator by Dany Laferrière and The Comedians by Graham Greene
Iceland: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason
Siena and Tuscany : Il Palio delle contrade morte by Fruttero & Lucentini and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
China : Wild Swans. Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang
Amsterdam: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Belgian Ardennes: The All Saints’ Day Lovers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Are « local » writers better placed to describe their country, their region or their city? This is a question that has bothered me a few times in writing this blog in which I am trying to match novels and travels. My post about Tanzania was probably too much dominated by Ernest Hemingway’s game hunting stories.  My first post about Naples was filled with references to the French romantic authors, but I hope to have redeemed myself by describing my enthusiasm for Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. It is not clear whether Joseph Conrad has ever set foot in Colombia: he would only have sailed along the country’s coast. With « Nostromo » he nevertheless wrote a novel acclaimed all over the world, including by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, one of the most promising Colombian writers.

It is Juan Gabriel Vásquez who incidently gave me the opportunity to investigate further that question by, as it where, flipping it. Born in Bogota, he spent one year in Belgium at the age of 26 in 1999, and published a collection of short stories entitled « The All Saints’ Day Lovers  (Los Amantes de Todos los Santos) ». The majority of the stories takes place in the Belgian Ardennes. It is a region which I happen to know relatively well and I was therefore curious to read how it would appear under the eyes of a young Colombian author.

Several of the short stories are set in the Ourthe valley, south of Liège, between the villages of Aywaille, Ferrières, Hamoir and Modave. They describe a comfortable rural bourgeoisie which enjoys hunting. Men gather in the misty autumn morning in a circle to hear the instructions for the battue. They only need a few words to understand each other, leave with their dogs in their large cars and go find their hunting posts. Some wives follow the hunt, while others stay at home to prepare the lunch. The rituals are time-honored and the families are linked together over generations.

In a world where tradition reigns but that can be rough, Vásquez has a very canny eye for details, describing with precision gestures, objects and atmospheres: the way a glass of Port is poured, the skinning of a hare, a Browning rifle being loaded. The authority in the voice of family head who does not allow any dissent. His acute look also allows him to lay bare, beyond what is left unsaid and the politeness exchanged between neighbors, the bitterness, the secrets and the betrayals. Disguised accidents, adultery, suicides or murders: the green valleys of the Ardennes hide many dramas under the soft cover of their forests and behind the imposing grey stones of their mansions.

I read each of the story with great pleasure and the book forms a very coherent collection. So, for me the experience was clearly positive: a writer – a brilliant one, admittedly– can, after spending there a few months, describe with accuracy and depth the atmospheres, habits and characters of a region which was initially completely unknown to him. And equally, a foreign eye is also an opportunity to rediscover under a new light places that one thinks knowing from every angle.

Thanks to Guillaume Ryelandt for his superb game and hunting videos shot in the Belgian Ardennes.

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