A Travellerspoint blog

November 2009

Down and Out in Paris and London

by George Orwell



Based on Orwell's own real life accounting of living in the slums of Paris and later in London. Orwell creates a fictional character that recounts his tales of reaching the lowest level in Paris and trying to survive at a similar level in London. Along the way meeting characters that help, hinder and create further interest.


This is a great book that really sticks with you once you've read it. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) is another Orwell classic, the concept is chilling and frightening real today. Down and out in Paris and London is a very different read. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to throw away all your cash, or what would happen if you lost everything in another country - this is a must read.

Orwell's character is there by choice, which makes it even more gripping. From living on pennies, selling, borrowing and avoiding all in Paris to living a homeless street life in London is visually descriptive and puts you right there with him. A great work of writing that one can relate to on so many levels.


I was not expecting this book to be so good. It's a travel book of a different kind that is often overlooked due to high brow literary write-ups. For the traveler it's well worth picking up this book. For everyone else, it's just as good for the insight alone.

Packing Space Guide: Its a slim 228 pages. It's 0.6 inches thick and weighs under half a pound. Fits nicely into a bag or large pocket.

My Rating: 5/5

Other George Orwell Works Include:
Animal Farm
Homage to Catalonia
Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays (Complete Works of George Orwell)

Buy it: Down and Out in Paris and London is available on Amazon.

About the Author: Dave has been traveling around the world in search of home for 5 years, photographing and writing about his journey on his website: www.thelongestwayhome.com.

Posted by TLWH 04:00 Archived in France Tagged books Comments (2)

Korea: A Walk Through The Land Of Miracles

By Simon Winchester


After a recent trip to South Korea, I was keen to find out some more about this fascinating country so was pleased to discover that author and journalist Simon Winchester had written a book about his travels in this little-known land. He was retracing the steps of a group of Dutch sailors who were shipwrecked off the coast of Korea in the 17th century, and the book describes his walk from the South of the country to the North Korean border-as far as he could go. It was written in the 1980s so I was aware that some detail was going to be outdated but still hoped to learn some more about the fascinating Korean culture that I had just had my first taste of.

Unfortunately I was disappointed with most of the book and it didn’t really provide the insight into the country that I was anticipating. I found the book disjointed and it was hard to get a feel of exactly where he was in the country, partly because he walked, rather than using any form of transport. As a result of this, much of the scenery and incidents he encounters along the way are described in detail but there are not enough descriptions of the people, culture, customs etc to provide any useful insight into the country. He does not visit most of the sights and attractions that the country has to offer, which would have been interesting to read about and similarly in Seoul he barely describes the city at all. Furthermore, many of the people that the author comes across in the book are non-Koreans, for example Irish missionaries and American servicemen, so they are seeing the country through a foreigner’s eyes, as is the author. He also meets several prostitutes and some tour guides along the way, neither or which provided a typical view of the country so as a result fails to explore Korean culture in any real depth. Several times the author makes sexual references to some of the women he meets on his travels, which I found to be rather tasteless and unnecessary.

One of the most interesting passages in the book was the description of ginseng, detailing its significance in Korean society and its health benefits. There were a few other interesting sections and anecdotes throughout, but if the rest of the book had been written in a similar style it would have a much more engaging and interesting read. By far the most interesting part of the book was the final part, when Winchester spends some time at the DMZ, near the border to North Korea. Although he was again predominantly with non – Koreans (American servicemen) while he was in this area, this section provides a fascinating insight into the history behind this massively fortified border area.

This book is a fairly quick, easy read with a spot of humour in parts, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone seeking to learn more about South Korea and its culture and people.

You can find this book on Amazon: Korea: A Walk Through The Land Of Miracles

Posted by bex76 12:32 Comments (0)

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

by Azar Nafisi


The Author

Azar Nafisi is currently a professor of English Literature at Johns Hopkins University. Prior to 1997, she lived in Iran and taught English and American Literature at the University of Tehran, The Free Islamic University, and The University of Allemah Tabatabai.

The Introduction

Professor Nafisi possessed (and still possesses I imagine) a passion for English Literature, most notably the works of Vladimir Nabokov, Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Henry James. In 1995, she resigned her post at The University of Tehran in protest of the law requiring women to wear the veil. Unbowed by what she considered to be a horrible repression of women’s rights, she invited several of her favorite female students to her home to begin what would become a weekly book club to read and discuss books that she so cherished but were banned by the new hardcore Islamic Regime as being decadent Western nonsense. In her home, protected from the “morality squads”, she and her students were free to remove their veils and simply be themselves without the burden of judgment from their repressive government. Nafisi writes lovingly of these sessions, with admiration for the courage of her students. To continually defy the authority of the Islamic Republic meant great danger for these women, a danger they faced on a daily basis; being caught wearing makeup, nail polish, or colorful clothing under their veils, allowing too much skin to be seen, or simply being in public without the accompaniment of a male relative. The women were forced to weave their lives through periods of harsh repression and, at times, a loosening of the strict codes dictated by the Ruling Council. The weekly book club allowed this group to escape into literature, and through discussions of it, reconcile their lives in a world not entirely under their control.

The Review

It was very difficult for me to read this book without being angry, angry that in my very lifetime, the rights and privileges of ordinary people have been suspended by government officials who, to a Western eye, seem to have been determined to return their country to the Middle Ages. I was a university student in Chicago at the time the early part of this book took place, and I find it difficult to imagine the kind of repression that occurred at various universities in Tehran. The book recalls the ascension (and eventual death) of Ayatollah Khomeini to become Supreme Leader of Iran after the Revolution, the ability of professors to teach what they wished openly only to have those privileges revoked and brutally suppressed. Student demonstrations against the policies of the Ruling Council were summarily put down with arrests, torture, and murder. One of the few ways to escape the madness was literature, and Professor Nafisi was determined to hold on to one of the last vestiges of sanity, both for herself and her students. Her classes were filled with believers and non-believers in the Regime, and the discussions were both lively and subdued. Many students were afraid to openly discuss class topics for fear they would be labeled as subversive, while others would cite the characters in the books as evidence of Western decadence. There is so much more to write that I could fill many pages with this review, but I’ll spare you my poor prose.

Some of the less angry moments in the book for me were discussions between Nafisi and her friend, the man she called “my magician”. The man was a stabilizing factor in her life, allowing her to release some of the pain she carried. During one meeting, over coffee and chocolates, when she was particularly bitter over the most recent edicts issued from the government, her magician declared “You should stop blaming the Islamic Republic for all of our problems”. This simple statement struck a chord, a realization that we all make our own problems. We have the power, in whatever society we live, to be individuals and free, at least in our minds.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to be free, if nowhere else but their mind.

You can find this book at Amazon: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books.

Posted by beerman 09:14 Archived in Iran Tagged books Comments (0)

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