Between 1929 and 1935 Evelyn Waugh travelled widely and wrote four books about his experiences. In this collection he writes, with his customary wit and perception, about a cruise around the Mediterranean; a train trip from Djibouti to Abyssinia to attend Emperor Haile Selassie's coronation in 1930; his travels in Aden, Zanzibar, Kenya and the Congo, coping with unbearable heat and plagued by mosquitoes; a journey to Guyana and Brazil; and his return to Addis Ababa in 1935 to report on the war between Abyssinia and Italy. Waugh's adventures on his travels gave him the ideas for such classic novels as Scoop and Black Mischief.
The keen observatons and satirical humor reminded me of Mark Twain's travel writing, although Twain's satire is sharper.
The historical details were especially interesting.
When the Going Was Good wasn't great, but was still a pleasure to read.
About this book
It comprises all that the author wishes to preserve of the four travel books he wrote between 1929 and 1935: Labels, Remote People, Ninety-Two Days, and Waugh in Abyssinia. “These four books,” he writes, “here in fragments reprinted, were the record of certain journeys, chosen for no better reason than I needed money at the time of their completion; they were pedestrian, day-to-day accounts of things seen and people met, interspersed with commonplace information and some rather callow comments. In cutting them to their present shape, I have sought to leave a purely personal narrative in the hope there still lingers round it some traces of vernal scent … I never aspired to be a great traveller, I was simply a young man, typical of my age; we travelled as a matter of course. I rejoice that I went when the going was good.”
It’s vintage Waugh, and it’s well-written, the author’s disclaimers aside. Some of it is excellent; it’s all very readable, and it made me brush up on my history; Waugh was of course writing for a contemporary audience, and though I was pleased to realize his references were easy to place, I was quite vague on the details.
Here are the contents:
From 1928 until 1937 I had no fixed home and no possessions which would not conveniently go on a porter’s barrow. I travelled continuously, in England and abroad… We have most of us marched and made camp since then, gone hungry and thirsty, lived where pistols are flourished and fired. At that time it seemed like an ordeal, an initiation to manhood…”
Chapter One: A Pleasure Cruise in 1929 (From Labels) – London, Paris, Monte Carlo, Naples, Catania, Haifa, Cana (Galilee), Port Said, Cairo, Malta, Crete, Constantinople, Athens, Corfu, Gibraltar, Seville.
Chapter Two: A Coronation in 1930 (From Remote Peoples) – The coronation of Ethiopian Emperor Ras Tafari at Addis Ababa.
Chapter Three: Globe-Trotting in 1930-1 (From Remote Peoples) – Zanzibar, the Congo, Aden, Kenya (Nairobi, the Rift Valley), Tanganyika, Cape Town.
Chapter Four: A Journey to Brazil in 1932 (From Ninety-two Days) – Guiana and Brazil.
Chapter Five: A War in 1935 (From Waugh in Abyssinia) – The Italian invasion of Abyssinia, from a war correspondent’s perspective. Farce versus bloodshed.
If you happen across this little account in your own travels, it is worth the time to read, especially if you are already a Waugh convert.