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MEMORY MAPS by Lisa St. Aubin de Terán


by Lisa St. Aubin de Terán

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 2003
ISBN: 1-86049-931-7
Publisher: Virago/Trafalgar

A British novelist and memoirist (The Hacienda, 1998, etc.) evokes the distant places she’s liked best, vividly celebrating journeys in countries from Brazil to Mali.

Though St. Aubin de Terán often mentions in passing parents, sibling, husbands, and children, they are merely brief reference points on the “memory maps” she draws. These maps are intended not only to evoke place, but to detail the lessons learned there. The author confesses that a certain restlessness has impelled her to travel, driving her to places where the life and the people are different. Youngest daughter of a much-married Englishwoman and a West Indian novelist, she was raised by her mother in a drab London suburb. At 16 she married a schizophrenic Venezuelan and spent seven years managing his plantation in the Andean foothills. Subsequently, she restored a villa with her third husband in Italy, lived on the Caribbean island of Nevis for a restorative six months, and rode remote Brazilian railroads for the BBC. She opens with a defining childhood moment—the discovery in the middle of Wimbledon common of a shimmering bog—that taught her the power of communing with a place. In separate chapters, she introduces places that have similarly affected her: Kew Gardens, where her mother taught her about plants (she later became a passionate gardener); the Clapham Railway Museum, “an Aladdin's cave of locomotion” that fueled her delight in train travel; Patagonia, where at a troubled point in her life she founds the winds calming; and Mali, where she felt she truly belonged. St. Aubin de Terán is one of those rare travelers who appreciates the local color but also perceptively notes such troubling elements as obnoxiously racist English wives in Hong Kong, prostitutes in Thailand, and glue-sniffing children in São Paulo.

Superior travel writing, but the personal details only tantalizingly hint at tales that bear further telling.