Travel has played a
significant role in my life. I was born in Sri Lanka, and now live in Australia. I’ve
lived in France,
too, first as a student and later when I worked in publishing, as an editor of
travel guides. So I always knew I would write about travel one day.
My first two novels were set in the far and the near
past. More recently, I have become fascinated with the contemporary world: its
speedy changes, its jumbled messages that time hasn’t yet sorted into the
momentous and the trite. Today, the number of tourists in the world exceeds one
billion. Add to that all the people traveling for work or for study, all the
refugees, all the immigrants, and it’s easy to see that leaving home has become
part of human experience on a scale unprecedented in history. So writing about
travel was a way of writing about modern life.
Nevertheless, it’s glib to say—as many do—that “Everyone
travels today.” I grew up in Sri Lanka, a country that attracts far more
tourists than it produces. Tourism can be liberating, self-indulgent, educative,
tedious, revelatory, disappointing, a way of acquiring symbolic capital…. It’s
certainly a luxury that’s beyond the reach of most people in the world. The disparity
between the global rich and the local poor was something I wanted to write
What I set out to do in this novel was to ask interesting
questions about travel: Who travels? Who doesn’t? Why? What takes us away from
home and what draws us back? Where is home? I have long been struck by Adrienne
Rich’s observation that “A place on a map is also a place in history.” Questions of Travel is organized around
those two poles: the desire for the exotic (for “places on maps”) and the
longing for home (for “history”).
Questions of Travel
allowed me to write about some of the places I love best in the world, like
Sydney and Naples. They are both places I first visited in books: Sydney in the novels of
Patrick White and Christina Stead, Naples
in the fiction of Shirley Hazzard. Hazzard is also the author of a collection
of linked stories called People in Glass
Houses that draws on her years at the UN. It’s one of the rare literary
explorations of the experience of working in an office. That was a subject that
interested me, too, and Hazzard’s book was always there at the back of my mind
while I was writing mine.
In the end, I hoped to do three things in Questions of Travel: I wanted to make
readers laugh, I wanted to make them think, and I wanted to move them. Whether
I succeeded is for readers to say. The work of writing is over now, and the
work of reading—which has no end—has begun.