‘In these stories from four decades of living and working around the world, corporate nomad Patrick Burns recounts some of his most memorable experiences: from dangerous pyrotechnic liaisons in the Algerian desert to a quest to find the Archbishop of Rangoon after a chance meeting in an English village church. This exploration of the personal landscape of expatriate life is interwoven with a navigation of some of the ties that have bound his unusual Anglo-German family during the past century; a mixture of hardcore Yorkshire eccentricity (including a grandfather whose obsession with installing indoor toilets inadvertently led to a twenty-five year family rift) and a liberal academic, Hanoverian heritage disoriented by Hitler, the events of 1939–1945 and the Cold War.’
Thus reads the back-cover blurb to Far Away and Further Back, an entertaining memoir cleverly arranged non-chronologically into short sections easily read in one sitting. This is strictly a book to be dipped into, to find oneself in the basement of a Chinese hotel, a Libyan oilfield, a carpark in Detroit or a village in Yorkshire. Most of these recollections are like well-rehearsed anecdotes, brightly polished by the years, familiar and strange, and usually humorous. Patrick Burns has an agreeable, self-deprecating style and an eye for detail.
Much of Far Away and Further Back refers to another time, when international travel was less commonplace than it is today and occasionally hazardous. Many of the book’s unexamined assumptions and perspectives are similarly dated: ‘places on the edges of the civilized world’ and ‘primitive tribesmen’, for example, and the deeply troubled word ‘expatriate’. Burns’ travels often kept him in a white, English-speaking technocratic bubble, so that locations and their inhabitants tend to be ‘exotic’ backdrops to the stories he has to tell. When unexpected circumstances prick that bubble, things become more complicated (that Chinese basement again).
Far Away and Further Back is a light, easy read, reassuring and comforting in a way that books about other people’s work often are. And it has some stand-out moments: for instance, the deserts in Algeria and Libya, where the isolation and the people are vividly brought to life. Another era indeed.
CreateSpace | ISBN 978-1986213875 (pbk)