Book: Wayfarers


The book: Wayfarers, by Knut Hamsun

The edition: English translation by James McFarlane, Condor Books paperback (British edition), 460 pages

The story: how Norwegian traditional society changed around the turn of the century (19th to 20th, that is), as seen through the eyes of Edevart, a young man in search of fortune (and love) and a perpetual wanderer. Also, Edevart’s own coming of age, from innocent child to a man “who knows the ways of the world”.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: I had never heard of Hamsun before I went to Norway and found his works on the “local fiction” shelves of a bookshop. I cannot really tell why I chose this one over other books, they all seemed to be dealing somehow with the same subject of modern life coming to the Norwegian countryside. It was good to read about the way of life that I had learned about in the local museums.

Unfortunately, I cannot say I liked it. Basically, this is the story of Edevart, but even more basically, this is no story at all, and this is the thing that bothers me most. Things happen, yes, people get rich and poor and rich again… but there is no story arch and no plot. I get this is often the case with Realism works, just photographing a reality, not focusing on the story. But to me, a good book needs a storyline, a reason why you choose to tell the story of that period, starting with a given fact and ending at a given point in time. A unity of some kind. This is completely lacking here. There is a kind of starting point, but there is no ending, and any other point in the story could have been chosen to be the finishing point. So what’s the point in telling this story at all?

Now, I know, the study of society, the photography of a moment in time that would mean a lot to the country’s development. OK. Fine. That’s not enough for me. (Apparently that’s enough for the Nobel prize commission, though. Of course there is something valuable in this book. It’s just not for me.)

Language & translation: I would be a fool to try and judge a translation in a language that is not my own, but there were a few points that made me wonder. For instance, the word dram. Why use a Scottish word? *puzzled* But then again, a translation always bears the mark of the translator, and I have to say that this one worked fine!

In the author’s own words: I liked finding this scene, because when I was in Norway, I was told that children in coastal towns would do this thing as a coming-of-age rite of passage:

One dinnertime, when work had stopped and they were all sitting, eating, there was a commotion on the drying grounds. People shouted and pointed! In heaven’s name — look! It was Ezra up aloft aboard the ship. He was already perilously high. He had let go the final rope and was holding on to the bare mast at the top. He clambered higher, shinning up with his hands and feet. The people ashore kept silent. One or two small girls threw themselves face down on the rocks. Then Ezra pretended to be turning the weathervane. He was climbing higher, the fool! Oh, what he needs is a good thrashing! He passes the weathervane, is above it, and now he’s high enough to reach up with one hand to the masthead and hold on there and take a rest. […] Ezra hauled himself up inch by inch, hanging like a monkey on that slender mast and making it bend. Then he stood there in the air, his body from the waist up above the top of the mast. Several people moaned. “Be quiet! Be quiet!” others hissed between clenched teeth. Ezra had reached his goal. Slowly he bent his body forward and balanced on his belly on the masthead. There he stayed.

Read this if: if you are into literary fiction and care nothing for plot.

Counts as: Travel with books – Norway

And we’re back!

It’s been a relaxing holiday. We’ve been here:

Vienna (as seen from the Belvedere Gardens)

and here

Vienna again, but a place where most tourists are not allowed: inside the Rathaus

and here

My hometown! This time we took no pictures here, so I decided to show you this one, beautiful, by pierofix on Flickr)

and here

Rome (as seen from St. Peter's Dome. It was the first time up there for me!)

True, I hoped to read more and blog more, instead I did little of both and got home with a suitcase FULL of (new! yay!) books, a HUGE backlog of reviews (which I would like to sum up briefly but won’t, because I have something to say about most reads), and MANY good intentions for the blogging schoolyear starting now (except that I got home and was immediately submerged by work, so I didn’t have time to blog earlier…)

All this to say: I’m back!

Travel with books – Greece

To know what this is all about, see my introduction post.
This is my first take at a Travel with books post, so if you have any idea on how I can make it better, please do tell me!


It took me a lot of time to write this post because I could not get hold of the photos, but it’s finally here. We were in Greece in January, first in Athens and then in Crete. I read five books for this project (see list below), some before leaving, some during the trip itself and one after coming back home.


The Acropolis in Athens

Here’s the list of possible reads I came up with, i.e. books set in Greece that sound interesting. Links are to my reviews, i.e. the books I actually read for this project; bold titles are the ones I am still interested in reading in the future; underlined titles are books I read in the past.

  • Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad
  • Alessandro Baricco, An Iliad
  • Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
  • David Gemmell, Lord of the Silver Bow
  • Robert Goddard, Into the Blue
  • Victoria Hislop, The Island
  • Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba The Greek
  • Morgan Llywelyn, The Elementals
  • Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Archanes
  • Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Spartan
  • Valerio Massimo Manfredi, The Oracle
  • Colleen McCulloughs, The Song of Troy
  • Steven Pressfield, Last of the Amazons
  • George Psychoundakis, The Cretan Runner
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Firebrand

Cretan landscape

It was interesting to read about the place I was in, it gave a completely different taste to the books, because I was experiencing the city through the author’s words and then immediately I could lift my eyes from the book and find the real city in front of me, and see what was similar and what was different.

In Athens, for example, I was reading The Oracle and a street name came up, and both me and my husband were convinced we had trodden that street on the same day — yet we could not find it on any map!

The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens

In Crete we were able to visit Archanes (the town the book is named after) and also Plaka, where most of The Island is set. We sat in a tavern that could be the one featured in the first chapters of the book, and watched the island of Spinalonga on the other side of a narrow canal. The story was much more real after seeing its setting.


The main (or rather only) road in Plaka

Inside a tavern in Plaka, overseeing Spinalonga (as described in the novel!)

Spinalonga, the former leper colony

And yet not everything in this experience was for the good. You may recall how I was disturbed by the sexism in Zorba the Greek. I had assumed it was due to the book being old and not having aged well, yet I was wrong because during this visit (my first to Greece) I noticed many things that hinted to a society that is still very machist and sexist. And while it disturbed me, it also made me notice the little sexist attitudes described in the other books I read (although in those cases they seemed more a description of society than an attitude on the author’s part). Such as this:

She had turned eighteen, her schooldays were long past and she had only one ambition: to marry well.


The archaeological site at Cnossos (the labyrinth of the Minotaur)

All in all, this turned out to be an interesting experience, and one I will surely continue.


View of Athens from the Acropolis

Our next destinations are supposed to be Andorra, Andalusia and Nepal/Tibet. Any suggestions as to what to read?

More travel links… and one more challenge!

After telling you about one, great resource, I found more that could help in choosing books for my Travel With Books reading project. Or just to choose your next book, whatever you are looking for!

  • an interesting site, where you can browse locations, but also ask the system for books based on a number of other criteria, including character gender and/or sexual orientation, or how funny/sad/traditional/unusual/etc. you want the book to be.
  • a nice (although very incomplete) database of books divided by location.
  • Vera Marie Badertscher’s archive of books based on her passion for travels, and divided by destination.

Apart from the last one, I owe these discoveries to Brighton Blogger, a fellow expat Italian book blogger that I recently discovered. Brighton Blogger offered these links as resources to participate in the new challenge she is hosting for 2011:

The goal of the Italy in Books Reading Challenge 2011 is to read 12 books set in Italy during 2011. I’m not sure I will end up reading 12 of them, but the idea fits in well with my reading project, because my husband and I do travel a lot to Italy — which is just natural since both pairs of our parents live there, in different regions.

Also, I am doing fine with my readings on Greece — my first destination for that project of mine, the Travel With Books reading project. We are currently in Greece, but since I only started reading very recently, I am still going through the books I planned to read, and I realized that future destinations would be better off if I planned with some advance. So I’m calling for your help. Here are some possible upcoming destinations:

  • Iceland
  • Sevilla
  • Andorra
  • Morocco

Any suggestion as to what to read?

Vera Marie Badertscher

Travel With Books, or: Hey, a reading project!

When I choose what to read, I usually go with gut feeling. I never had any major reading project set for myself, except from school reading projects and, since book blogging started, reading challenges. Book by book, I choose what I feel like reading next, and I’m fine with that.

Still, I have cradled one reading idea for some time now: that it would be nice to read books about or set in a place before I visit that place. I’ve been traveling quite a lot in the past few years and the idea turned up every time I planned a new trip, yet I never got around to actually take it through.

Then I mentioned it to my readers during the Read-A-Thon, and the idea has never left me since. I thought it through and decided to transform it into a real personal reading project. (Feel free to join, if you wish! I’d be happy to share thoughts and destinations! Just email me ioscribacchinaATgmailDOTcom or leave a comment!)

Here’s what I plan to do: read at least a couple of books for each place I visit, and blog about it. Each post will feature:

  • a list of possible books about that destination
  • a list of the books I read, with links to reviews if I wrote them
  • pictures from my trip
  • my thoughts about how the real place and its bookish counterpart related in my experience

I will add links here to my destination posts. Should you ever write a post that fits into this project, let me know and I’ll add a link to your blog too!

If you want to join or share, feel free to grab the button. It is based on a beautiful picture by Calsidyrose I found on Flickr. If you know anything about vintage compasses, please click through and see if you can answer the author’s questions. Thank you.


  • Greece (Athens and Crete)