Remembering Nicolas Bouvier

Remembering Nicolas Bouvier

I blame Nicolas Bouvier for many things. For my love for books, travel and delight with the world. I have never met him. He died sixteen years ago after a filfulling life of a traveler and a writer. Not meeting him in person is one of my biggest regrets in life. Fortunately what he left is more than we could hope for. So here is my tribute to this amazing man. I’ll share some thoughts on his first and best known book: The Way of the World (published originally in French, under the title L’Usage du Monde, published in English by Eland).

This book is a masterpiece. In order to write it Nicolas Bouvier threw himself into a one year and a half journey from Geneva to India first, and was writing it for five years afterwards. Five years! I still cannot believe in his determination. But this book justifies it with every page and every chapter.

My favorite thing about it is the essence of a real journey: the author exclude any rush from his travel. He had time to stay in a place for few weeks of months. He allowed himself to become friends with local people. He got close to the ethnic music and local celebrations. He struggled with obstacles (formalities when crossing borders), difficulties (breakdown of the car), and eventually reached his destination. He showed real determination although he was not brutal nor impatient. He played this game according to its rules. And this is why he got back rich and full of places, people and their stories.

My favorite scene described in this book is referred to difficult situation and reaction of the author. Imagine your car broke down, in a middle of nowhere (literally!), no human activity as far as your sight reaches, no chances for help. And what Nicolas Bouvier does? He gets out of the car, sits under the tree and smokes his cigaret while contemplating amazing view of the valley. Eventually every difficulty is resolvable. The help came even though they had to spend night in a car under the tree in the middle of nowhere. But the view of night sky stayed with him forever.

I wish every travel author was so careful about details, so open and so patient. In the traveling community nowadays this is hard to find. People tend to run around like mad looking for another amazing spot they can photograph and share it on their social media. I think this is a very good opportunity to remind us all what the real journey is about: to allow yourself to get transformed by it. And to never cease to delight with the world as it is.

The Way of the World Cover

Courtesy of Eland Publishing House

This is not the only post about Nicolas Bouvier on this blog. If you are interested in his stay on the Aran Island you can read it here.

About the author

I get easily fascinated with people and places. I am passionately curious. I get often seduced with the beauty of nature. Blue sky, pure water, white snow and endless horizon seams to be enough to make me happy.

View all articles by Agata Mleczko
  • Looks like he was an amazing person, Book added to my “must read” list.

  • Five years? Wow, what dedication! Thanks for sharing this exemplary trailblazer.

    • I’ve read an interview with him and just before he died he admitted that when he started writing his first book (The Way of the World) he hoped all others will be simple to write. Instead, he was writing about one page a week for the whole life. Don’t know any other travel author with such dedication as his.

    • PLUS: it has only about 300 pages, including pictures.

  • Susan @vibrantireland

    Another book for my list!

    • We can take it with us and read it loud in Lapland 2015. What do you think about this idea?

  • hikebiketravel

    Sounds like the sort of book I’d really enjoy.

    • With 3-5 phrases the author takes you to the place he described. It’s written so well that you can even smell it!

  • Catherine Sweeney

    I can understand why you were inspired by Nicolas Bouvier – what an amazing journey he had. Thanks for the introduction to him and his book. I’m eager to read it now.

    • Oh this is cool! I can easily imagine when you sit in your favorite armchair and read it sipping a warm tea.