Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Peaks and Bandits by Alf Bonnevie Bryn translated by Bibbi Lee

 First published in 1943, ths classic of Norwegian literature has only now been published into English! 

In later life, Alf Bonnevie Bryn became an acclaimed mountaineer, writer and engineer but this book covers an expendition he made as a student. He and the Australian George Ingle Finch (who himself in later life became one of the greatest mountaineers of all time) made a trip to Corsica in 1909.

 Even before getting to Corsica the pair were demonstrating their mountaineering prowess by climbing the rigging of the boat taking them to the island. What follows is a humourous telling of a real adventure, full of incident and memorable characters including a snake called James.

This short (less than 120 pages!) narrative not only gives an engrossing and entertaining view of the mountaineering aspect of the expedition, but also gives insight into the Corsican culture of the time. So alongside the details of difficult climbs, river crossings, improvising snowshes and skis from found materials and coping with the very basic facilities (even in the then best hotels in Corsica) the book gives very interesting insights into the way of life in rural Corsica. In the early twentieth century Corsica was a land of banditos and long running blood vendettas between families. In addition, the book offers a potted history of forests in Corsica from the rich forest cover that lasted until around 1600 to the pipe making industry that used tonnes of pine roots from Corsican forests from the middle of the 19th century into the 20th century. The author also offers an interesting perspective on the concept of geographical discovery:

Neither George nor I have been recognised by geographical science as the discoverers of Corsica. Also we have been too reticent to demand such recognition, even though it may have been well deserved. The discovery of a populated country will always be a strictly subjective endeavour. Both Leif Erickson and Columbus separately discovered America. The only difference between them on one hand and me and George on the other, was that they did not know what the country was called. 

This ia well worth reading whether you're interested in the mountaineering or the history of Corsica. It packs a huge amout into a short narrative and is consistently interesting, informative and amusing. Bibbi Lee's translation is excellent too, the reader gets a real feel for the author's own voice and the humour works (humour is one of the things that can be most difficult to translate).

Peaks and Bandits by Alf Bonnevie Bryn (translated by Bibbi Lee) published (2021) by Vertebrate Publishing.  

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.


RG said...

1. The owl. Here we would call that Patriotic!

2. The book - I hope I find and read it - sounds like a short and worthwhile read.

Lowcarb team member said...

This does sound an interesting book, many thanks for the review.

All the best Jan

Crafty Green Poet said...

Hi RG - a patriotic owl! Excellent! Hope you find and enjoy the book!

Lowcarb - it is indeed!