For years, few days before my husband's birthday, I used to go to the Travel Section at our local bookstore to look for the perfect book that would capture his imagination. Those were not the kind of books which I would normally choose for myself, but somehow I was always able to find the right book for him.
Earlier this week, as I was reading through The Whales Know A Journey through Mexican California, by the Italian writer Pino Cacucci (and beautifuly translated by our own Red Room blogger Katherine Gregor), I realized that this was the perfect book for Tzvi my late husband. Even the name of the publisher was highly appropriate, “Armchair Traveller:” Tzvi was an avid reader who loved to sit at home and learn about other people’s journeys and adventures from books.
The Whales Know is a collection of 20 short charming and erudite essays that combine descriptions of Cacucci's travels through Mexican California with intellectual insights. The essays are rich with allusions and thought-provoking references.
Sometimes translations tend to be somewhat heavy and cumbersome, as the translator is eager to be as true to the source as possible, and in the process forgets that ultimately the book would be judged by its accessibility and appeal. However, thanks to the sensitivity and talent of Katherine Gregor, The Whales Know in the English translation has a poetic and natural flow.
Books about travelling are great reading material all year around, but this book is especially appropriate to take on vacation. Reading an essay or two a day gives plenty of food for the imagination for the rest of the time. Another unique quality of the collection is that the reader could open the book on almost any page and is sure to find an illuminating passage: for example: from essay number 19 “Frontera:”
“The border has shaped me from my very childhood and continues to teach me even now I am past fifty. . .The border, no matter how much wire netting and how many trenches are built, always ends up uniting rather than separating those who live in its shadow. “(p. 126)
As an Israeli, the issue of borders is relevant and close to my heart. On the Mexican border Cacucci meets the Mexican author Gabriel Trujillo Munoz and quotes his writing on this subject (this time Cacucciis himself is in the role of the translator).
I took The Whales Know with me on my Passover vacation to the Ramon Crater in the Desert Mountain and was very happy with this choice. Since it is a small book, I was able to carry it long while walking on the edge of the crater. Every so often I would sit down read an essay and then resume the walk. I couldn’t think of a better, or more stimulating, companion. This time I found the right book for me.
Here is the link, and the details of the book: http://www.thearmchairtraveller.com/product/439
The Whales Know
A Journey Through Mexican California
By Pino Cacucci
At 2,000 km, Baja California in modern-day Mexico is one of the longest peninsulas in the world, and certainly one of the most geographically diverse. Following in the footsteps of John Steinbeck, Pino Cacucci travels through endless expanses of desert, salt mountains and rows of cacti with thorns so sharp they can impale thirsty birds. He meets local characters ranging from greedy privateers to Jesuit missionaries - and a cameo from The Doors' Jim Morrison. Yet the cast of characters includes animals as well as people - sixty years ago Mexic became the first country to create a safe haven for whales, and even today these mysteriously intelligent animals play alongside the fishing boats in harmony with humans. Written with humility, humour and heart, The Whales Know is an insight into an ecosystem under threat.
Pino Cacucci was born in Chiavari, Italy. He is the author of over 20 works of fiction and non-ficto and has won over 16 awards for his writing since 1988.
Translated by Katherine Gregor