the guardian Tue 04 October 2011
Solnit became an Irish citizen in 1986 thanks to some "fancy detective work" by an uncle who tracked down her mother's Irish roots. "I've been in hybrid California, world capital of amnesia, nearly all my life," she says. The new passport gives her an opportunity to explore notions of identity, memory and travel as a stranger in a strange land. Although ostensibly a travelogue, Solnit's wonderfully discursive text ranges far and wide, through the geography and history of Ireland, tourism, migration and travel. Descriptions of places and people segue into brilliant meditations on metaphor, exile and nomadism. Her meeting with Ireland's Travellers ("hated, isolated and sometimes admired") is a painful reminder of the US civil rights issues of the 1950s and 60s. First published in 1997, this is as much a book about the idea of travel ("what is life but a form of motion and a journey through a foreign world?") as her experiences in Ireland. She also discovers that one of the more under-appreciated pleasures of travel is "being at last legitimately lost and confused".