May 26, 2020
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It is relatively easy to write about remote, far-off places—Timbuktu or Ulan Bator rather than Delhi, London or Paris...


“By the time I arrived in Bali the exodus had already begun.” From the first line of Sadanand Dhume’s My Friend The Fanatic, you’re convinced you’re in the hands of an exceptional journalist. As Dhume explores contemporary Indonesia, starting with the Bali bombings and continuing with an analysis of hardline Islam, it delivers on its promise to take the reader into the heart of a close, but little-understood, neighbour to India. This is fine travel journalism, and Dhume’s journey is peppered with insights and good humour.

Samanth Subramanian’s debut collection of essays, Following Fish, trawls calmer waters. But as he moves through the toddy shops, searches for the elusive but perfect hilsa, and unravels the story behind the “fish cure” for asthma, Subramanian opens up the Indian coastlines in some of the most precise and moving prose written in recent times. Part food narrative, part travelogue, this was one of the most satisfying books of recent times.

It is relatively easy to write about remote, far-off places—Timbuktu or Ulan Bator rather than Delhi, London or Paris. Graham Robb’s Parisians explores the history of one of the world’s most celebrated cities through the lives of its inhabitants. What emerges is “a history of Paris recounted by many different voices”, from Emile Zola to Sarkozy, the flamboyant criminal Vidocq, and Adolf Hitler. Their stories allow Robb to craft one of the most unusual and thought-provoking biographies of a city ever written.

But the book that will appeal most to red-eyed flight veterans is Alain de Bouton’s slender, incisive A Week at the Airport. De Bouton spent a week at Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest airports. “Had one been asked to take a Martian to visit a single place that neatly captures the gamut of themes running through our civilisation—from our faith in technology to our destruction of nature, from our interconnectedness to our romanticising of travel—it would have to be to the departures and arrivals halls that one would head.”

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