JOURNEY INTO THE MIND’S EYE: FRAGMENTS OF AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Lesley Blanch, introduction by Georgia de Chamberet 18.95 $ (20% off)15.16 $ Available in Paperback on July 10, 2018
“My book is not altogether autobiography, nor altogether travel or history either. You will just have to invent a new category,” Lesley Blanch wrote about Journey into the Mind’s Eye, a book that remains as singularly adventurous and intoxicating now as when it first came out in 1968.
Russia seized Lesley Blanch when she was still a child. A mysterious traveler — swathed in Siberian furs, bearing Fabergé eggs and icons as gifts along with Russian fairy tales and fairy tales of Russia — came to visit her parents and left her starry-eyed. Years later the same man returned to sweep her off her feet. Her love affair with ‘the Traveller’, as she calls him, transformed her life and fueled an abiding fascination with Russia and Russian culture, one that would lead her to dingy apartments reeking of cabbage soup and piroshki on the outskirts of Paris in the 1960s, and to Siberia and beyond.Continue reading Media Release | New York Review of Books Classics 10-07-2018 | Journey into the Mind’s Eye, Lesley Blanch
“Translation does not simply jump from one language to another. It also ‘crosses’ languages in the sense of blending them, as you might cross a bulldog with a borzoi, or two varieties of rose . . . Translation can cross languages that have much in common – for example, English and French – and language that are very distant – like English and Malay; it can span languages that share the same script system (Japanese and Korean) and those that don’t (Japanese and Arabic or German); it can go between dialects (or between a dialect and a language) or between different words of the same language . . . Translation can be done by one person, or several, or hundreds – or by machine. It can be a matter of life or death, as in a war zone; or an ordinary part of everyday existence in a multilingual community.” Matthew Reynolds, Translation: A Very Short Introduction
In short, language-learning and translation skills are vital in our global era. Ever more so for Brexit Britain: as links are severed with Europe, forging new links with faraway foreign countries will become crucial. How ironic that the prevailing mood is so bulldog British, with foreign language learning on a downward slide, and languages no longer being part of the core curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds. To expect everyone else to speak English, the lingua franca spoken across the world, and no longer be embarrassed by being monolingual, is a deeply arrogant and short-sighted attitude. Language is the means by which one accesses a culture, and is the expression of a culture.
There are oases of hope. Thank goodness for those universities which run language courses and postgraduate degrees in translation – Westminster, Roehampton, SOAS, UCL, UEA and Portsmouth among them.
Britain is part of Europe – like it or not! Border controls do not function when it comes to words since ideas have no borders. Books in translation disseminating knowledge and cultural awareness matter more than ever as prejudice and discrimination make an unwelcome (re)appearance on the Western stage.
As part of the build up to France’s invitation of honour to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2017, a series of discussion panels – “triangular talks” – were held on Monday 13 March at the French Institute in London. Leading book editors from Germany, France and Britain met to discuss fiction, non fiction and what the future holds. Publishers, translators, agents and scouts packed out the library at the IFRU to hear them. Lucie Campos, Head of the French Book Office, chaired the discussions.
When Lesley Blanch wrote that “Journey into the Mind’s Eye is not altogether autobiography, nor altogether travel or history either. You will just have to invent a new category . . .” the label narrative non-fiction did not yet exist. Her autobiography about the early part of her life was published in 1968. She was ahead of her time. Like Rebecca West and Truman Capote, Lesley Blanch was experimenting with different forms and techniques to tell a damn good ‘true’ story.
Lesley Blanch claimed she could not invent, hence choosing biography rather than fiction, although her storytelling was underpinned by a vivid imagination and scholarly research. The Sabres of Paradise: Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus took six years to complete and required thorough investigation in Russia and Turkey.
What is narrative non fiction?
Narrative non-fiction is not just a convenient label used by publishers to help booksellers categorise their titles and display them, or a new genre fresh out of American writing schools for literary critics to argue about. It is favoured by clever young editors like Leo Hollis at Verso, or Richard Milner at Quercus, as a way to get across difficult, or dry, ideas in an engaging manner. People are most interested in other people and their experiences, not the dusty archives of research. To take the reader on a scientific, or philosophical, or historical journey of discovery by means of a series of a well-written scenes knitted together to form a compelling whole, as opposed to recounting how A then B then C happened in a cut-and-dried linear fashion, makes for a more exciting read and a saleable book.
Lesley Blanch: always interesting, always flirtatiously alive, always passionate – Barnaby Rogerson, Country Life
Of Lesley Blanch’s biographies, The Sabres of Paradise: Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus was her favourite. Thorough research, a balanced approach and dramatic storytelling skills bring to life Imam Shamyl, the ‘Lion of Daghestan’, leader of the warring mountain tribes of Daghestan and Chechnya. From 1834-59 they fought to remain independent of Russia, strengthened only by the desire for an independent Caucasus and their religious faith. The Tzar took Shamyl’s eldest son as a hostage to St Petersburg. Shamyl captured two Georgian princesses (from the Tzarina’s entourage), a French governess and the children, and kept them in his harem until they could be exchanged for his son.