Book Review: Travel and Intercultural Communication: Going North

Travel and Intercultural Communication are so closely connected that any approach to either of the two invites an analysis of both phenomena. Civilization and culture cannot be conceived in the absence of travel. Travel has always been a projection of the imagination first, and then, more often than not, a dream come true. It is through travel that cultures can communicate, and through intercultural communication that they have gained a new impetus.

Travel and Intercultural Communication: Going North contains the proceedings of “Going North: An Interdisciplinary Conference on Travel and Intercultural Communication” held in Halden, Norway, in February 2016. Addressing mobility from an interdisciplinary perspective, the volume charts the North as a space where issues of identity, othering, the crossing of borders and cultural perceptions of what it is find a compass in diversity.

9781443879149Looking into travel, the volume is conceived as a journey, whose first stage “Encountering the Other – Crossing Borders?” throws the traditional narrative of “othering” through travel into serious question. In the opening chapter, Kathryn Walchester from Liverpool John Moores University, who focuses on a group of women travellers from the long nineteenth-century, argues that the servants who used to make arrangements for their employers had a more attuned experience of “foreignness” than their masters. The next chapter is written by Eva Lambertson Björk and Jutta Eschenbach from Østfold University College, who read Wilson MacArthur’s travelogue in terms of Syed Manzurul Islams’s concept of sedentary and nomadic travellers, a dichotomy in which the latter category tends to “become-other.” The conclusion reached by the authors is that Wilson MacArthur was only marginally successful in his nomadic endeavour. The third chapter of the first part is written by Melanie Duckworth from from Østfold University College. Starting from the work of Scottish poet and essayist Kathleen Jamie, Melanie Duckworth finds herself engaged in a conversation between cultures, such as that between English, Scottish, Danish and Swedish conservators working together in Norway to repair whale skeletons from the Nineteenth Century. What Melanie Duckworth discovers in Jamie’s writing is the difference between whales and their physical remains as symbols of northernness and nature, on the one hand, and the whales as creatures that make their own journeys, which may be an alternative guide for us in our explorations of the North. From the nature/culture divide, the journey moves, in the fourth chapter, to Maria Selezneva’s approach to translation between cultures. Maria Selezneva from the University of Exeter reads travel guides about Russia and their English translations, with a focus on the translation of different types of northern weather, clothes and food through the strategy of domestication, which was meant to render those essential aspects of the Russian northernness in a manner that could make the soldiers experience the unknown space they had to deal with by comparing it with the culture of “home.” What Selezneva argues is that the domesticating strategy makes cultural differences more graspable for the readers of travel guides.

The second stage of the journey “Perceiving the North – Issues of Identity and Ways of Thinking” starts with an exploration of the mysterious in postwar representations of the Canadian North, with particular emphasis on Pierre Berton’s critically acclaimed and best-selling book The Mysterious North (1956), a chapter written by Janicke Stensvaag Kaas from the University of Oslo. From Canada as an epitome of the mysterious north, Joanna Witkowska from the University of Szczecin guides us on routes taken by “Sikorski’s Tourists” from Poland to Britain during World War II. Witkowska’s focus is the nature of the Polish-British relations with a stress on the Polish perception of the geographical and metaphorical North, and her conclusion is that, although the Polish soldiers made their journey in their capacity of combatants, what they discovered by travelling shed light on their innermost selves. The next destination is the projection of a poet’s mind in Seamus Heany’s collection North (1975). Karen Patrick Knutsen from Østfold University College argues that in North Heany remapped history and poetry by turning the geographical north into a metaphor of place, belonging and cultural hybridity. In the next chapter, Oana Cogeanu from Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iaşi argues that African-Americans have developed a keen interest in travelling, especially northbound. The conclusion she draws is that the North had an ambivalent value in that particular context, being the site of disaster and the site of hope and freedom at the same time. The last chapter in the volume is written by Mieke Neyens from the Centrum voor Levende Tlen. The author argues that for the Mexicans “el norte” is the desert, the US border, emigration, drug trafficking and violence. What Neyens reveals to us in her compelling chapter is a new kind of literature originated by this harsh reality, called narcoliteratura. However, for the European authors, Mexico, and the north-western Sierra Madre region in particular, has always been an escape from the modern civilization. Thus, the very last leg of the journey north in this volume dwells on the vast possibilities of remapping, i.e. reimagining both the north and the south.

By Dana Bădulescu

Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iaşi, Romania

For more information about Travel and Intercultural Communication: Going North and to purchase a copy, click here.

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