Chosen by Farhana
Want to read a book about travelling, but you’re in the middle of a pandemic that’s confined most of us to our homes for the last few months? In that case, Wanderland, which is all about finding magic in the landscape both near and far and is written in such joyful and nourishing prose, may be just the book you need. This is food for the lockdown soul.
Longlisted for the Wainwright Prize, Wanderland charts a year in the life of author, Jini Reddy, as she seeks out various lesser known, but captivating sites throughout Britain’s natural world. An award-winning writer and seasoned traveller (it starts on a mountain top in the Pyrenees), the book draws on Jini’s wealth of experiences and is informed by her multi-cultural roots and perspective as an ‘outsider’. Born in London to Indian parents who grew up in apartheid-era South Africa, raised in Montreal, then back to London, Jini's voice is refreshing, beautifully present, and makes us consider how our own travelling is informed by our identity.
From hidden wells, to labyrinths, to coast-to-coast pilgrimages, to land temples and wild art – Jini’s search celebrates the joys of roaming and explores her desire for a deeper connection. For example, she writes of a walk with a friend in Cornwall: ‘The view to St Michael’s Mount is spectacular. Green fields slide into the sea, and the small tidal island rises up loftily from the water. But if I turn around, I can see forest and patchwork fields tumbling into St Ives Bay too, with its white sands curving like a crescent moon. I feel a kind of ecstasy and exhilaration... We hug. We have friendship and we have this. “Halfway there!” we sing.’
The book is full of such moments of longing and (un)belonging. For the most part, Jini carves her own path, based on following her own curiosity, tip-offs from acquaintances, and flashes of serendipity. However, there are some moments that force her to confront the limitations and challenges of her quest:
‘At the back of my mind are the headlines shouting about people whose skin colour is not white who never connect with nature. It annoys me, the generalisation. I’m just a human enjoying the sea... Like other women and men before me whose storylines don’t fit the plot and whose voices are never heard’, and ‘What is the mythic landscape anyway... I have to look these things up, for they are not native to me. What is so wrong with wanting to connect with the land on your own terms... which specific culture am I meant to identify with? If you come from a multicultural background, it isn’t an easy question to answer.’
Clearly, as a woman of colour, much of the spaces that Jini occupies in person and in print rarely feature someone who looks like her, and it happens too often in the book for it to be dismissed as simply insecurity or paranoia. However, the book itself is a form of resistance, of taking up space, and such perspectives can only enhance the descriptions of what Jini experiences and enrich our understanding of these places. This reviewer is certainly grateful for it (I didn’t want it to end), and I’m sure that many of our readers will be too.
Part travel guide, part nature writing, part memoir, part wellness guide, part eco-spiritual meditation, and a hundred per cent full of heart, humour and joy, Wanderland is an engaging and unique book about the pleasures of roaming the countryside that also explores our place in it. ‘In this garden,’ Jini writes later, ‘there is a place that welcomes me exactly as I am, and that I, the outlier, can call home. Maybe this is what I’m looking for: little pockets of home, all over Britain’. We at Desi Reads highly recommend that you to find a home for this book too.