A View of the World

Norman Lewis


A View of the World

Norman Lewis


Collected between these covers are twenty of Norman Lewis’s finest pieces of travel writing, spanning a period of 30 years. He brings us face to face with Castro’s executioner, with a tragic Ernest Hemingway and with the unchanged lifestyle of fishermen in an unspoilt Ibiza. He describes the gentle pleasures of Belize, the ferocious blood feuds of Sardinian bandits and the unpleasant duty of repatriating Cossacks to the Soviet Union in 1944.

At the heart of the collection is Lewis’s famous report on the genocide of the Brazilian Indians, which led to the creation of Survival International – which campaigns for the rights of tribal peoples. This, Lewis felt, was the most important achievement of his professional life.

‘Everything is portrayed with a brilliance which makes all other travel-writing read like the blurb on a brochure.’ - Time Out
A View of the World will carry Norman Lewis’s reputation even higher than it already is. It is a triumph.’ - Patrick Marnham, Literary Review
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A View of the World: Selected Journalism
ISBN: 978-0907871-43-9
Format: 320pp demi pb
Price: £12.99


Author Biography

Norman Lewis's early childhood, as recalled in Jackdaw Cake (1985), was spent partly with his Welsh spiritualist parents in Enfield, North London, and partly with his eccentric aunts in Wales. Forgoing a place at university for lack of funds, he used the income from wedding photography and various petty trading to finance travels to Spain, Italy and the Balkans, before being approached by the Colonial Office to spy for them with his camera in Yemen. He moved to Cuba in 1939, but was recalled for duty in the Intelligence Corps during the Second World War. It was from this that Norman Lewis's masterpiece, Naples '44, emerged, a resurrection of his wartime diary only finally published in 1978. Before that came a number of novels and travel books, notably A Dragon Apparent (1951) and Golden Earth (1952), both of which were best sellers in their day. His novel The Volcanoes Above Us, based on personal experiences in Central America, sold six million copies in paperback in Russia and The Honoured Society (1964), a non-fiction study of the Sicilian Mafia, was serialised in six instalments by the New Yorker.

Norman Lewis wrote thirteen novels and thirteen works of non-fiction, mostly travel books, but he regarded his life's major achievement to be the reaction to an article written by him entitled Genocide in Brazil, published in The Sunday Times in 1968. This led to a change in the Brazilian law relating to the treatment of Indians, and to the formation of Survival International, the influential international organisation which campaigns for the rights of tribal peoples. He later published a very successful book called The Missionaries (1988) which is set amongst the Indians of Central and Latin America.


Extract from Preface

TRAVEL CAME BEFORE WRITING. There was a time when I felt that all I wanted from life was to be allowed to remain a perpetual spectator of changing scenes. I managed my meagre supply of money so as to be able to surrender myself as much as possible to this addiction, and charged with a wonderful ignorance I went abroad by third-class train, country bus, on foot, by canoe, by tramp steamer and by Arab dhow.

My travels started with Spain, where in the early thirties a fonda would furnish a windowless cell and an austere meal of bread, sausage and wine for the equivalent of a shilling; when Pedro Flores Atocha, last of the flamboyant bandits of Andalusia, was receiving the first of the Spanish film actresses in his mountain hideout, and you sometimes saw a picture of Lenin, or of the bullfighter Belmonte, in the places later occupied by a portrait of General Franco. In this then relatively incorruptible country, where merely by leaving the main road you could plunge immediately into Europe’s prehistoric past, I spent – divided over a number of visits – a total of about three years, and I still go there to get away from the insipidity of modern times whenever I can, although the Spain of old has only survived in a few relatively inaccessible parts of the interior.

After Spain it was the African meridionale of Italy, the Balkans, the Red Sea and Southern Arabia (in the dhow, thirty tons, undecked, crew of five, without lifeboat: a lifeboat would have been impiously calling into question God’s providence), then Mexico, North Africa, three winters in the Far East, Central America, Equatorial Africa, and the less travelled areas of South America: Amazonian Brazil, the Savannahs of Venezuela, Bolivia and Paraguay. At first I believed in pure travel, and that it was necessary never to have a purpose. I arrived, watched a little, and when my amazement began to subside, my impressions to dull, I moved on. When I began to write it was probably, at least in part, in an attempt to imprison some essence of the experiences, the images which were always slipping, fading, dissolving, taking flight. Later I found that the discipline of writing compelled me to see more, to penetrate more deeply to increase my understanding and to discard a little of my ignorance. Still later I began to weave the background and the incidents of travel into my novels, and now, as I observe the change that has taken place over the years, I wonder if I am any longer capable of enjoying travel for its own sake.

Insurgents and bandits, malaria, curtains of various kinds, whether lowered by politicians or by the priest-kings of their day, like the Imam of the Yemen – I am reminded that those parts of the world where I have travelled most happily, those countries which had most preserved their peculiar style and character, always seemed to suffer from these dis- advantages, and that on the other hand those that seemed to me hardly worth a visit and certainly not worth writing about were those that had succumbed to a flaccid and joyless prosperity which they were doing their best to export to the rest of the world. Ironically, so much that is of value has been protected by poverty, bad communications, reactionary governments, the natural barriers to progress of mountain, desert and jungle, colonial misrule, the anopheles mosquito.

The pieces in this collection are mostly about places to escape to when one has had a surfeit of the amenities of the modern world. Belize (colonial neglect) is a living museum, a wondrous survival of a Caribbean colony of the last century. Liberia (bad communications plus bad gov- ernment) offers an extraordinary example of what can be done in the names of Freedom and Democracy when released slaves are turned loose on native Africans, who until the said released slaves appeared on the scene, had had the good fortune to remain free. Guatemala (colonial misrule plus reactionary governments plus endless revolution) is the last home of the uncontaminated Red Man – the Mayan Indian – living, to be sure, in much reduced circumstances, but still defending himself with fair success from all the overtures of the West.

Norman Lewis, 1959