Talking of Peter Hitchens…
A review of:
Short Breaks in Mordor
Dawn’s and Departures of a Scribbler
by Peter Hitchens
He calls himself ‘the hated Peter Hitchens’, because of the bile directed at him from both sides of the political spectrum: From the left, for his perceived conservative views, such as his hard-line opposition to drugs, traditional Anglican Christianity and support for family and moral values; from the right, for his distaste for the faux-conservative party of David Cameron (‘Useless Tories’) and his refusal to hold the knee-jerk right-wing opinions they think he should have. But his latest book, Short Breaks in Mordor, causes me to wonder whether Hitchens-hatred could be more subtly driven by a subliminal aversion to his determination to puncture the complacency of Westerners and to deflate their delusions of permanent First World status.
The ‘Mordor’ of the title refers of course to the evil empire of Sauron from ‘Lord of the Rings’. ‘Mordor’ is one of those words, like ‘Dickensian’, which serves as a cultural cue; in utilising it, the author conveys in one word the awfulness (perceived or real) of the destinations he visits. Among these are Iran, North Korea, Ceuta, Venezuela, Burma, South Africa, Belarus, Russia, Shanghai, Bhutan, India, Baghdad, Cairo, Detroit, Turkey, Uzbekistan, China, Gaza, Cuba and Congo. They are places you probably do not want to visit, and Hitchens went so you don’t have to.
Some of these essays come as a surprise to those of us spoon-fed and lapping up the lazy and shallow perspectives of our media and governments. The Iran which Hitchens describes is not the dour, oppressive place it is generally portrayed to be. And you learn that pockets of poverty and desperation lurk in the most prosperous of locations.
Stylistically, Hitchens is a master, and indeed this book is a masterclass in travel writing without the cliches, unerringly seeking out the offbeat and describing it evocatively. I particularly enjoyed his description of the Himalayas from Bhutan as ‘massed on the horizon like a frozen storm’. One warning: The book is far from the ‘we’re in [insert destination] and having a good time’ type of near-advertorial you see in the Sunday travel supplements. I submit that it could constitute a new genre: Political Travel Writing. And it is unrelenting. Not initially being able to download onto the desktop (problem solved later), I was obliged to get through it in one go.
Maybe the book should carry a health warning: ‘This publication may cause depression’. Certainly, the portrayals of the sorrows economic and political systems can perpetrate on humans depressed and distressed me all through the merciless read.
But it also had me offering up my heartfelt thanks that I inhabit a (for now) tranquil and secure environment – the depths of rural Corfu.
For some very odd reason Short Breaks in Mordor was turned down for publication as a printed book, and therefore it is available only (as
yet) in the form of a Kindle from Amazon (in Corfu you have to use amazon.com). If you don’t have a Kindle device you can download it, as I did, on your Mac or PC via Kindle Reader (free download from Amazon).
The ebook is incredibly affordable at just over nine dollars. In view of ongoing events in several of the locations described, it’s a small price to pay for what is likely the most important book you’ll read this year.