A Journey to Nowhere

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‘A Journey to Nowhere: Among the Lands and History of Courland’ by the French author Jean-Paul Kauffmann is a wonderful work of literature by a passionate and curious writer who tries to unravel the history of Courland, an entity that no longer exists. 
 
Curiously engaging and surprisingly up to date. Romantic sometimes and passionate. The book describes the emptiness and the richness of our history and the relationship of our, at times 'detached', region with the wider world. Translated to English by Euan Cameron. 288 pages.

 

Courland is an entity that no longer exists. With the Gulf of Riga to the north, the Baltic to the west and Lithuania at its southern border, and now part of modern Latvia, the region was by occupied by Nazi Germany and returned to Soviet Russia after the war, remaining largely inaccessible until 1991. Once ruled by descendants of the Teutonic Knights, it is now a nowhere land of wide skies and forests, deserted beaches, ruined castles and ex-KGB prisons. For years Jean-Paul Kauffmann has been irresistibly drawn to this place, the buffer between the Germanic and Slav worlds. His digressive travels at the wheel of a Skoda become an investigation into the whereabouts of a former lover, a search for an excavator of tombs, and he follows in the footsteps of Louis XVIII, for whom Courland was once a place of exile. Author of Voyage to Desolation Island and The Dark Room at Longwood - 'a remarkable book which defies classification' (New Statesman), which won six prizes on its publication in France - Kauffmann has come to be known as an erudite and witty observer of the world's most desolate reaches.
 
Reviews
'a triumph ... superbly translated by Euan Cameron, provides a vivid amalgam of opinion, history and travelogue; I was absorbed from start to finish' Financial Times. 'an elegantly ironic account in which Kauffmann magically sustains a tone that is curious, bewildered and slightly regretful' The Irish Times. 'Kauffmann is a gripping narrator. The minute he lands in Riga to find out more about a place that's possibly 'not going to be very jolly' [...] you're hooked' The Lady. 'Kauffmann's homage to his lost beloved leaves us all in his debt' Standpoint Magazine. 'a perfect balance of arty (and literary) impressionism, and the more journalistic form of travel writing' The Bookbag. 'One word: brilliant!' Law Society of Scotland. 'This is a stunningly well written book which cannot be recommended too highly' Law Society of Scotland. 'Curiously engaging and even tantalising book ...This book is something of a tour de force' Spectator. 'Oblique, discursive and at times exasperating, his narrative proves a rich and thought-provoking meditation on the vicissitudes of history, memory, identity, and the tenacity of human nature' Independent. 
 
About the Author
Jean-Paul Kauffmann is the author of The Dark Room at Longwood (1999), an exploration of Napoleon's exile on St Helena, Desolation Island (2001) and Wrestling with the Angel (2003). He was a journalist until 1985, when he was kidnapped in Beirut and only released three years later. Since then he has been editor of both Amateur de Bordeaux and Amateur de Cigare magazines. Euan Cameron's translations include works by Julien Green, Simone de Beauvoir and Paul Morand, biographies of Marcel Proust and Irene Nemirovsky, and most recently Monsieur Linh and His Child, by Philippe Claudel. 
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