LAST LETTERS FROM HAV by Jan Morris

LAST LETTERS FROM HAV

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Not a novel, but a fictional travel journal: Morris, having profiled most of the real world's distinctive neighborhoods (Cities, Places, Travels, Destinations, Journeys), now spends six months in the doomed city-state of Hav, ""a little compendium of the World's experience, historically, aesthetically, even perhaps spiritually."" Located somewhere around Turkey, Hay is a bit like Constantinople, a bit like Venice, a bit like all polyglot, cosmopolitan, ancient/modern cities; unlike its real-world counterparts, however, Hav is relatively unknown, relatively untainted by tourism--though it has had its share of famous visitors, rumored or documented. (""I have an open mind about Anastasia, but it is intriguing to think that, if she really did escape to Hav, her exile might well have overlapped that of Trotsky, who spent a secretive month here in the summer of 1929."") Morris takes in the sights: the Iron Dog, Hav's most famous monument since the 11th century ("" 'I can never see a picture of that animal,' wrote T.E. Lawrence, 'without feeling a pain in my rum' ""); that cheerful folly, the House of the Chinese Master, which fascinated--among others--Freud; the Electric Ferry, ""looking rather like a floating London taxi"" as it criss-crosses Hav's harbor. She muses on Hav's history and literature, its music (some Celtic influences, perhaps?) and art. She witnesses the city's annual Roof Race, ""involving jumps over more than thirty alleyways, culminating in a prodigious leap over the open space in the center of the Great Bazaar. . ."" She meets the people of Hay, both distinguished figures and members of Hav's various ethnic groups: an exiled Muslim leader, body-guarded by Assyrians (""I recruit them in Iraq""); Hav's only British residents, a shifty diplomat and family; Hav's ""peculiar island Greeks""; the Kretevs, ""like a race of gypsy Rastafarians,"" living in caves on the city outskirts; Russian ‚migr‚s, an old Nazi (who manically defends the Holocaust as an epic Passion Play), trendy Turks (long sideburns, a ""Save the Whale"" button), mystical Cathars, Chinese restaurateurs and gangsters. But, in August 1984, after vague murmurs about rebellion/invasion escalate to panic, Morris must leave the city. . . and she sees ""the warships coming"" as her train pulls out. An inventive, erudite treat for a very special audience--partly an ode to vanishing city-civilizations, partly a parody (subtle, gently witty) of the travel-journal genre itself.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1985
Publisher: Random House