On Friday 15th June, John Lister-Kaye comes to talk about The Dun Cow Rib, his memoir of a lost but not forgotten childhood. I read this beautifully written, sensitive, sometimes elegiac account last year and immediately nominated as my non-fiction Scottish Book of the Year in the Christmas newspapers. So that I could recollect more about why I liked it so much, I began re-reading the foreword and before I knew it, an hour and fifty pages had slipped by as I re-entered John’s world and his past.
The story begins at his glorious field studies centre at Aigas in Strathglass in the North-East Highlands and then asks a simple question about where his predeliction for wild nature came from. What follows is a wonderful answer, the story of a little boy fascinated by animals and the world they inhabit while trying to come to terms with his mother’s unexplained illness and frequent absences. No-one writes more lyrically and fluently about the landscape and its animals and this book and its author will delight you.
When I began seriously to write history more than twenty years ago, Norman Davies was my inspiration. I read his magisterial Europe: A History and have re-read it regularly. It is a definitive work. And so when I bought Beneath Another Sky last autumn, my expectations were high. It turned out to be a work of sheer brilliance and I gave it as Christmas presents.
The subtitle is A Global Journey into History and it is exactly that, a sweeping narrative that takes us to Baku, the Emirates, India, Malaysia, Mauritius, Tasmania, Tahiti, Texas, Madeira and many places in between. At every stop, he excavates the layers of experience that underpin the present, tramping around ancient temples and weird museums, summarizing succinctly the Indian caste system, Austronesian languages and Pacific explorations, delving into the fate of indigenous peoples, a missing Malaysian airliner, reflecting on cultural conflict in Cornwall and much else that is absolutely fascinating in this treasure house of a book.
These are two stunning tours de force by two great men and we are privileged to have them join us in Harmony Garden.