Stanford Travel Book of the Year Award, in partnership with The Authors' Club

Authors' Club 1891
WINNER:
Border by Kapka Kassabova

When Kapka Kassabova was a child, the borderzone between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece was rumoured to be an easier crossing point into the West than the Berlin Wall so it swarmed with soldiers, spies and fugitives. On holidays close to the border on the Black Sea coast, she remembers playing on the beach, only miles from where an electrified fence bristled, its barbs pointing inwards toward the enemy: the holiday-makers, the potential escapees.
 

Today, this densely forested landscape is no longer heavily militarised, but it is scarred by its past. In Border, Kapka Kassabova sets out on a journey to meet the people of this triple border - Bulgarians, Turks, Greeks, and the latest wave of refugees fleeing conflict further afield. She discovers a region that has been shaped by the successive forces of history: by its own past migration crises, by communism, by two World wars, by the Ottoman Empire, and - older still - by the ancient legacy of myths and legends. As Kapka Kassabova explores this enigmatic region in the company of border guards and treasure hunters, entrepreneurs and botanists, psychic healers and ritual fire-walkers, refugees and smugglers, she traces the physical and psychological borders that criss-cross its villages and mountains, and goes in search of the stories that will unlock its secrets.

Border is a sharply observed portrait of a little-known corner of Europe, and a fascinating meditation on the borderlines that exist between countries, between cultures, between people, and within each of us.

SHORTLIST:
Islander by Patrick Barkham

The British Isles are an archipelago made up of two large islands and 6,289 smaller ones. Some, like the Isle of Man, resemble miniature nations, with their own language and tax laws; others, like Ray Island in Essex, are abandoned and mysterious places haunted by myths, ghosts and foxes. There are resurgent islands such as Eigg, which have been liberated from capricious owners to be run by their residents; holy islands like Bardsey, the resting place of 20,000 saints, and still a site of spiritual questing; and deserted islands such as St Kilda, famed for the evacuation of its human population, and now dominated by wild sheep and seabirds.
 

In this evocative and vividly observed book, Patrick Barkham explores some of the most beautiful landscapes in the British Isles as he travels to ever-smaller islands in search of their special magic. Our small islands are both places of freedom and imprisonment, party destinations and oases of peace, strangely suburban and deeply wild. They are places where the past is unusually present, but they can also offer a vision of an alternative future. Meeting all kinds of islanders, from nuns to puffins, from local legends to rare subspecies of vole, he seeks to discover what it is like to live on a small island, and what it means to be an islander.

RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR by Philip Hoare

From the author of Leviathan, or, The Whale, comes a composite portrait of the subtle, beautiful, inspired and demented ways in which we have come to terms with our watery planet.

In the third of his watery books, the author goes in pursuit of human and animal stories of the sea. Of people enchanted or driven to despair by the water, accompanied by whales and birds and seals familiar spirits swimming and flying with the author on his meandering odyssey from suburbia into the unknown.
 

Along the way, he encounters drowned poets and eccentric artists, modernist writers and era-defining performers, wild utopians and national heroes famous or infamous, they are all surprisingly, and sometimes fatally, linked to the sea.
 

Out of the storm-clouds of the twenty-first century and our restive time, these stories reach back into the past and forward into the future. This is a shape-shifting world that has never been certain, caught between the natural and unnatural, where the state between human and animal is blurred. Time, space, gender and species become as fluid as the sea.
 

Here humans challenge their landbound lives through art or words or performance or myth, through the animal and the elemental. And here they are forever drawn back to the water, forever lost and found on the infinite sea.

The Epic City by Kushanava Choudhury

Everything that could possibly be wrong with a city was wrong with Calcutta.
 

When Kushanava Choudhury arrived in New Jersey at the age of twelve, he had already migrated halfway around the world four times. After graduating from Princeton, he moved back to the world which his immigrant parents had abandoned, to a city built between a river and a swamp, where the moisture-drenched air swarms with mosquitos after sundown.
 

Once the capital of the British Raj, and then India's industrial and cultural hub, by 2001 Calcutta was clearly past its prime. Why, his relatives beseeched him, had he returned? Surely, he could have moved to Delhi, Bombay or Bangalore, where a new Golden Age of consumption was being born.
 

Yet fifteen million people still lived in Calcutta. Working for the Statesman, its leading English newspaper, Kushanava Choudhury found the streets of his childhood unchanged by time. Shouting hawkers still overran the footpaths, fish-sellers squatted on bazaar floors; politics still meant barricades and bus burnings, while Communist ministers travelled in motorcades.
 

Sifting through the chaos for the stories that never make the papers, Kushanava Choudhury paints a soulful, compelling portrait of the everyday lives that make Calcutta. Written with humanity, wit and insight, The Epic City is an unforgettable portrait of an era, and a city which is a world unto itself.

The Rule of the Land by Garrett Carr

In the wake of the EU referendum, the United Kingdom’s border with Ireland has gained greater significance: it is set to become the frontier with the European Union.

To uncover its secret landscape, with a troubled past and an uncertain future, Garrett Carr travelled Ireland’s border on foot and by canoe. This invisible line has hosted smugglers and kings, runaways, peacemakers, protestors and terrorists, revealing the tumult of a border, changing the way we look at nationhood, land and power. From encounters with border dwellers to uncovering rituals, hidden pathways and ancient monuments, this book presents the borderland as a unique realm of its own, and asks what it holds for the future

Read an extract

Travels in a Dervish Cloak by Isambard Wilkinson & photographs by Chev Wilkinson

By turns witty, evocative and elegiac, Travels in a Dervish Cloak is a rich, intimate and amusing portrait of Pakistan.

Isambard Wilkinson’s work as a foreign correspondent during the War on Terror gives him three years to explore the country in all its exuberant complexity. Seeking the land behind the headlines, Bard sets out to discover the essence of a country convulsed by Islamist violence. What of the old, mystical Pakistan has survived and what has being destroyed? We meet charismatic tribal chieftains, hereditary saints blessing prostitutes, rebel tribal lords making their last stand, gangster bosses in violent slums and ecstatic Muslim pilgrims.

Navigating a minefield of coups, conspiracies, cock-ups and bombs, Bard is reluctant to judge, his ear alert to the telling phrase, his eye open to Pakistan’s palimpsest of beliefs, languages and imperial legacies. His is a funny, hashish- and whisky-scented travel book from the frontline, full of open-hearted delight and a poignant lust for life. Like a cat with nine lives, Bard travels and parties his way to the remotest corners, never allowing his own fragile health to deter him.

Where the Wild Winds Are by Nick Hunt

Nick Hunt sets off on an unlikely quest: to follow four of Europe's winds across the continent...

His wind-walks begin on Cross Fell, the highest point of the Pennines, as he chases the roaring Helm - the only named wind in Britain. In southern Europe he follows the Bora - a bitter northerly that blows from Trieste through Slovenia and down the Croatian coast. His hunt for the 'snow-eating' Foehn becomes a meandering journey of exhilaration and despair through the Alpine valleys of Switzerland, and his final walk traces an ancient pilgrims' path in the south of France on the trail of the Mistral - the 'wind of madness' which animated and tormented Vincent Van Gogh.

These are journeys into wild wind, but also into wild landscapes and the people who inhabit them - a cast of meteorologists, storm chasers, mountain men, eccentric wind enthusiasts, sailors and shepherds. Soon Nick finds himself borne along by the very forces he is pursuing, through rain, blizzards, howling gales, and back through time itself. For, where the wild winds are, there are also myths and legends, history and hearsay, science and superstition - and occasionally remote mountain cabins packed with pickles, cured meats and homemade alcohol.

Where the Wild Winds Are is a beautiful, unconventional travelogue that makes the invisible visible.

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