Oct 1, 2010 10:54:11 AM
Austria: travel books to read before you go
This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Austria guide provides a selection of travel literature to enhance your trip.
Austria is still waiting for its definitive travel description because most writers focus on its rich cultural heritage rather than the trials and tribulations of the everyday traveller. There are a few very interesting ones around, though, providing a fine backdrop for your journey.
A superb starting point is A Time of Gifts, the first volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy detailing his epic and inspiring walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople in 1933–34. Written 40 years after his feet took him along the Danube Valley and through Vienna, this rich, evocative tale gives an insight into Austria between the world wars.
In Danube, Claudio Magris passes an erudite, Italian eye over the length of the Danube in his travel journal from the mid-1980s, and naturally spends time in Austria. His sharp, individual style tackles topics like the source of the Danube (a leaky tap in a remote mountain farmhouse, according to one sedimentologist) and larger-than-life characters such as Wittgenstein and Kafka.
Edward Crankshaw combines travel literature and historical detail in Vienna: The Image of a Culture in Decline. This study of the golden city in the early and mid-1930s is certainly nostalgic but still manages to tell it like it is.
Arguably the best account of Jewish life in Vienna between the world wars is Last Waltz in Vienna: The Destruction of a Family 1842–1942, by George Clare. This heartbreaking autobiography details one family’s fate at the hands of the Nazis; it’s a superb read and an insight into how the ordinary lives of so many were forever changed from one day to the next.
Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday is an extraordinary account of fin de siècle Vienna, a time when intellectual brotherhood tried to stop the destruction of Europe. It’s all that more poignant considering Zweig, who had been forced into exile by the Nazis, committed suicide in 1942 on completion of the book.
More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found here.