Skip to main content

Whereabouts by Alastair Reid

  • In one sentence: Gorgeous long essays on nation and place, interspersed with excellent poems.
  • Number of reads: 2 since 2013.
  • Galef type: Theory 1 - models of how a phenomenon works, &
    Style 3 - tickle your aesthetic sense in a way that obliquely makes you a more interesting, generative thinker.
  • To be read when: at home too long.

A poet, Hispanicist, translator and long-time New Yorkerer. He was right there when the Latin American lit boom began, giving Neruda crash space in London - and mates with Marquez, insofar as anyone is. I like Reid's prose even better than his excellent poems.

Foreigners are, if you like, curable romantics. The illusion they retain, perhaps left over from their mysterious childhood epiphanies, is that there might somewhere be a place – and a self – instantly recognizable, into which they will be able to sink with a single, timeless, contented sigh. In the curious region between that illusion and the faint terror of being utterly nowhere and anonymous, foreigners live.

I love him for his scepticism about group identity - the piece on returning "home" to Scotland is great because of his distance from it. "Scotland":
It was a day peculiar to this piece of the planet, when larks rose on long thin strings of singing and the air shifted with the shimmer of actual angels. Greenness entered the body. The grasses shivered with presences, and sunlight stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills. Walking into town, I saw, in a radiant raincoat, the woman from the fish-shop. ‘What a day it is! cried I, like a sunstruck madman. And what did she have to say for it? Her brow grew bleak, her ancestors raged in their graves as she spoke with their ancient misery: 'We’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it!