Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lesley Blanch

I just read of the death of an excellent travel writer whom I had recently discovered, Lesely Blanch. At the end of April I picked up her book Journey into the Mind's Eye, an account of her early fascination with Russia and travels to the Soviet Union in the 1930s, at a used book sale. I have not yet finished it, but find it an extremely romantic account of an obsession with a country, which like many obsessions originated with an obsession with a man. The man was a Russian friend of her parents who became her lover when she was only 17. The man's son also later became her lover.

Blanch wrote very well, recreating for the reader the long vanished Russia of the Czars and the 19th century writers. She clearly felt a kinship for that land and way of life that even when she was a child before World War I was very close to vanishing. She was far more interested in that than in modern Russia under Stalin, but she had the romantic's ability to see what she wanted to see rather than what was actually there.

Her first successful book, which I must find, is an account of four European women who left convention behind and found love in the Arab world, which Blanch herself also visited frequently and admired. Clearly she herself must have resembled one of the characters, Lady Jane Digby, in many ways. It is called The Wilder Shores of Love. Another book that sounds like a must read is The Sabres of Paradise, an account of the Russian struggles against Chechnya in the 19th century.

Blanch, who died earlier this month at 102, was married three times and spent her later years in Menton, France. She is a writer well worth reading.


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