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Crete: Literary Travel

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About the Author

Barry Unsworth won the Booker Prize in 1992 for Sacred Hunger; his next novel, Morality Play was a Booker nominee and a bestseller in both the U.S. and Great Britain. His other books include Pascali's Island, which was made into a feature film, and Losing Nelson, a Publishers Weekly Best Book and New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Unsworth lives in Umbria with his wife and was recently a visiting professor at Kenyon College in Ohio.


National Geographic's "Directions" series features travel narratives by some of the finest contemporary writers, and Unsworth's account of Crete is another worthy addition. Author of the Booker Prize-winning Sacred Hunger, Unsworth is strongly attuned to both Cretan mythology and its 8000-year-long history. His musings zigzag from speculations about Sir Arthur Evans and the discovery of the Knossos, to the occupation of Crete by the Venetians and the Ottoman Turks. The narrative is laced with an anecdote here, a legend there about the cave where Zeus was born, the cave sacred to the goddess Artemis, or the one inhabited by the Cyclops Polephemus, and recounts a trek through the famous gorge of Samaria. Unsworth laments the growth of tourism and the culture for "megaluxes" (vast hotels), comparing the trappings of tourism to the modern-day Knossos labyrinth. This literate pastiche of history, mythology, and impressionistic writing, full of descriptions of monasteries, frescoes, and goats clambering on hillsides, is sure to delight the S traveler and provide background information for the tourist. Recommended for all libraries.-Ravi Shenoy, Naperville P.L., IL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Booker Prize-winning novelist Unsworth (Sacred Hunger, etc.) travels with his wife to the ancient island of Crete, where, according to the Greeks, "everything began." The island's history is gruesome due to centuries of occupation by Venetian, German and Turkish conquerors, so Crete can "sometimes seem a patchwork of stories, from primal myth to heroic legend, to the embroideries of local gossip." Just as the "Cretans love stories," so does Unsworth, and on visiting the wonders of the island the "holy cavern of Psychro" (the supposed birthplace of Zeus), the gorges of Samaria and Therisso, the Lasithi Plateau he infuses his narrative with historical facts, mythic lore and a deep appreciation for nature. His keen understanding of history and legend also illuminates his visits to the island's churches and monasteries, and particularly the ruined palace at Knossos, where the hero Theseus was said to have defeated the "monstrous Minotaur." A reverence for Crete's flora and fauna pervades Unsworth's exacting prose ("the scrub glows with a soft burnish, flame-colored, forming a landscape almost too beautiful to be quite believed in"), and he often couples these descriptions with sadness over Crete's invasive, oppressive tourism industry. The people of Crete, Unsworth notes more than once, are "of great spirit and generous hospitality [but also possess an] implacable vindictiveness," often still upholding "blood feuds" that originated centuries ago. Despite Unsworth's bouts of melancholy and occasional frustrations, the author's thoughtful journey eventually finds peace and comfort in "the vitality and warmth of the people and the unfailing charm of the landscape." (Feb.) Forecast: With the 2004 summer Olympics in Athens, Greece will be the focus of significant attention, which Unsworth's book could benefit from. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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