Dalrymple’s Travel Writing

Dalrymple is well known for his eloquent and meaningful essays, but the travel journals of his early writing career are not as familiar to most readers. In these books, a man of broad education goes curious and open-minded on journeys through places where difficulty and conflict raise the fundamental questions of human existence. Below, for example, are a few lines from Sweet Waist of America: Journeys Around Guatemala. How many travel books contain lines like these?

The wrecked cathedral, once grandiose rather than grand, now deconsecrated and deserted, looks out over wasteland in which graze zebu cattle. The whole enormous edifice, with its crumbled walls of reinforced cement painted to look like marble, seems to mock the vanity of Man’s aspirations. Why rebuild when everything is destined for decay? The grass which grows in the cracks in the floor and bends before the wind that gusts through the ruined church made me think of six words: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The detritus of sanctity lies everywhere, unclaimed…


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