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I stuck with this one for about three hours, until I decided I could not listen to the author's voice for one more minute. So very upper class that it sounded like a bad parody - ugh! Material itself may have had some promise, though I wasn't interested in his, or his father's, philosophies on life. At Your Own Risk.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
You should read this book if you've read Stewart's previous books and enjoyed them, otherwise it's probably skippable. It's extraordinarily unexpected. It's almost like it was supposed to be one of those books that rising politicians always tend to write, where they encounter Real People from True Country, whose innate and good knowings trump the elitist swots from London (or Washington, or where have you) who think they know best. Fortunately, Stewart has way too much going on upstairs and has seen way too much in his life to write a book exactly like that (although the second part of three comes pretty close.)
As Stewart walks along Hadrian's Wall and from England to Scotland, he bring along the eye of a man who has both seen and experienced empire, and who has negotiated borders more stark than any in the British Isles. What he sees as a result is not what he expected or hoped to find, not in the landscape or the people. He's aided by the presence of his elderly father, a man who is the same time a lovable old eccentric and an old pillar of the British Empire, a man who in his 90s still speaks several dialects of Chinese, was once known as the "Butcher of Penang" (possibly a joke?), and served as the quartermaster of the intelligence services ("Q", in James Bond terms.) The two Stewarts, as warriors, spies and diplomats of real calibre, barely stand out as they negotiate a landscape apparently used to their type. Here there is a statue to the man who conquered India, here is a farmer whose ancestor once captured the king of Afghanistan, here is a man who sings songs in the language of a nation nobody now remembers...
What does it all mean, about Great Britain today? Stewart has no idea and frankly admits as much, several times despairing his father that he has no idea what kind of book he's going to write. This gives it all a frustrating, meandering nature. But it's stuck with me, in a vaguely unsettling way. The suggestion in the end is that where we are from is at the same time somewhere and nowhere, and that this is no new phenomenon of modernity. The stories we tell and the artifacts we venerate are made as much of projection as of actual history, and that our own lives await the same inevitable, inescapable interpretation, and not always before we ourselves are gone from the scene. So not a typical politician book.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
Delightful journey alongside Hadrian’s Wall and meanderings back through the Borderland Marches. Plenty of fascinating facts, impressions and opinions. Anyone who enjoys delving into the history of the Scottish/English border, its languages, landscape will love this book. Relationship with his somewhat eccentric but highly intelligent father is obviously very close. Very touching section on his father’s end. It is a delight to hear the author read his book with such clarity and feeling.
A great listen, it was the retelling of the relationship with his father that I found most enjoyable about this audible book. I'm not sure if that was the purpose of the book but it rose above the story of modern life and the detailed history of the border lands between England and Scotland. Thoroughly enjoyed it.