A journey to nowhere (detours and riddles in the lands and history of Courland) by Jean-Paul Kuaffmann
French non fiction
Translator Euan Cameron
Jean-Paul Kaufmann is a french Journalist ,he was born in Mayenne france .He became a Journalist and started working for the french press agency in Beirut in Lebanon in the 80’s in 1985 he was kidnapped and held for three years ,after the intervention of the French government was freed .He returned to France and started a magazine ,and at this time he started writing travel books and then in 2007 wrote about his captivity in Lebanon .He also wrote a book about Napoleon and St Helena ,this won a number of prizes This book was published in 2009 in french and this year by Machlehose press in English .
Well a journey to nowhere ,is a real journey to nowhere .We follow Jean-paul who via a french Canadian called Mara when he is national service ,discovered this place called Courland in the book on the french king louis XVII he sees the mention of a prince from this place he ask Mara she says find out about it that is what Jean-paul does that on his return from national service .Now I didn’t know about Courland til I opened this book ,it turns out in the opening pages the french writer Marguerite Yourcenar called Coup de grace was set the it is in the Baltic region and makes up what is now called Latvia but it’s Northern half the costal part of latvia .So when the chance arrives to goand find out more he goes to Riga and then on it what was Courland. Jean-Paul takes the chance to see what happened and what remains of this once special little nation .So we arrive and he is using a red Skoda to get round this country .We see how the duchy of Courland was quite a enlighten place with even its own two small overseas post one in Gambia the over in Tobago became a part of first russia and the germany and finally part of Latvia till now their are few that even remember it all even call themselves Courlanders .We discover the little country the knights of the Livonia til 1500 then the duchy .We meet present day people who live there how varied there reactions are ,figures from the past like Eduard Von keyserling a writer that was maybe a link between Turgenev’s writing and the likes of Franz Kafka .We see Jean-Paul like a Holmes of the Baltic piece together the bits of this land then and now .
“we haven’t come to Courland for its gastronomy “, says Joelle
She could not have put it better .People’s relationship with food seems purely functional here,but that may only be an impression .We are what we eat ,popular wisdom decrees .Jean-Jacques Rousseau maintained that the English ,with their love of very rare roast beef ,could not be a perverted and violent people .What are the Courlanders ,then ? To judge by the restaurants we’re visited ,the cuisine is peasant based .Pork and potatoes reign supreme
the cuisine of Courland discussed .
Well this book is one of those books that could sit on the shelf next to my Bruce Chatwin’s ,W g Sebald’s or last years favourite Edmund de Waal .It is one of those books where the narrative digresses here and there , in fact in this book they drift from the grand past of Courland to the grey post communist Latvia as we see Jean-Paul ,piece it all together in piffy chapters .I found he had a dry humour and a very keen eye on the world around him picking small details up and expanding them out . Almost like a clever tie together of great blog post written about this place but these are all written by Jean-Paul but each chapter seems like another piece of a huge jigsaw .So if you want to see what happens to the little country of europe maybe read this ,I was reminded of the film the Mouse that roared this little place had manage to go out to Africa and the Caribbean and set up shop .one for all lover of travel with history books I think any way ..
Have you read this book ?
Have you read the Yourcenar book ?