Granta has come a long way from its reputation as a beacon of travel writing, to an edition that questions it in the name of climate change and accusations of cultural appropriation. Should We Have Stayed At Home? — asks the question with a strong hint of “yes”.
I enjoy reading Granta and Travel writing in Granta is for me always something to be eagerly anticipated. So this inversion offers an intriguing angle of homespun tales. The narrative in the first person – but can the narrator in their locality still capture the story of an adventure?
In Granta 157, there is much that missed the mark for me. The series of letters between a former US Border Control agent and a migrant from El Salvador – lacked sufficient impact for me. A collection of drawings and photos about Iceland with words added by Roni Horn, were too abstract and light to give necessary impact.
However, the postcards and “graffiti” that was once written on their fronts (as addresses were once only allowed the backs) by Jennifer Croft, had a curiosity that required further interest in its particularity. Emmanuel Iduma’s thoughts on his family background in Nigeria while on a visit from America was a deeply reflective memoir.
Bathsheba Demuth’s description the plight of grey whales in far-east Russia moved me for its research and understanding of local cultures. However, the set of photographs by James Tylor of Australia with black rectangles in their centre, representing “what the colonisers have taken and destroyed” from native inhabitants, just failed to resonate – the artistic approach did not work for me and the narrative was too one sided in its view to justify being published.
The series of diary-like entries (referred to as “chronicles”) by Sinead Gleeson relates a trip to Brazil to give literary talks but ultimately lacks depth for me. Taran K. Khan enlightens us with an essay on the Afghan migrant community in Hamburg. Jessica J. Lee describes alleyways in Taipei close to where her mother was born was a personal tale albeit light.
Eliane Brum grapples with the “climate crisis” without necessarily adding more insight. She quotes Greta Thunberg as she sets off: “Our house is on fire”. She doubts her own course of events by staying “The Antarctic was a utopia realizing itself, but my species — me — doesn’t fit there. I am not alone in being out of place. There are more tourists, more fishing boats and more mineral exploration vessels. Worse, this utopia is melting.” So what to do? She asks “just because we can, should we?” That has been the rationale for centuries – to go places just because they are there. Instead she presents us with a neologism – ‘solastalgia’ for a world we know will soon be otherwise.