Literally Lost: 61

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The Independent Travel
THIS EXCERPT has been taken from a work of travel literature. Readers are invited to tell us:

a) where is the action taking place?

b) who is the author?

Blackwell's Bookshops will award pounds 30-worth of book tokens to the first correct answer out of the hat. Answers on a postcard to: Literally Lost, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL. Usual competition rules apply. Entries to arrive by this Thursday.

These long-lost events, which my memory had so carelessly and capriciously stored away came back to me now with full force as we munched our stale pizzas and drank heartening draughts of Chianti; it was a memory touched off by the fact that here, like in Cyprus, we were seated on the hot time-worn stones of a vanished Greek civilisation, in the drowsy heat of the Mediterranean sun. Sacked temples, quake-shattered citadels, ruined fortresses, exhausted wells - the old tragic pattern was the same, a long barren lesson in history which seeks always for the stable and is undermined by the shifts and betrayals of man's consciousness itself as reflected in the ebb and flow of temporal events. And yet - what was he not capable of, man? Any benevolent tyrant who could enjoy a thirty- year rule was capable of launching humanity on a new vector, on to the peaceful pursuits of husbandry and art and science. Then, abruptly, like the explosions from some Etna of the mind, the whole thing overturned and both guilty and innocent were drenched in blood. One would have to believe very deeply in Nature to expect a meaning to emerge from all this senseless carnage; if one were really truthful one could not help but see her as some frightful demented sow gobbling up her own young at every remove. But Martine, underneath the spoilt playgirl or fashion-plate was hunting after some absolute belief in the rightness of Process - and only the philosophy of the Indians seemed to offer that.

Nearby in a mulberry tree, half dead and desiccated by the sun, there was a great concourse of ravens or rooks - I could not tell which. They were like Methodist parsons holding one of their amusing conventions in some Harrogate hotel. They submitted with modest attention to the theological addresses of two elders of the church. Almost they made notes. We watched them with wonder and curiosity, trying to imagine what could be the subject of their grave colloquy. In vain. After a long moment, and in response to no immediately visible signal, the whole company wheeled suddenly up into the sky and performed several slow and rather irresolute gyrations - as if they were trying to locate a beam of light or sound, an electrical impulse which would orient them. They wheeled several times in a most indecisive manner; then suddenly a break-away group detached itself and headed northward, and the rest, their minds set at rest, wheeled into line and followed them.

Literally Lost 60: The book was 'In The Land Of Oz' by Howard Jacobson. The action took place in Australia. The winner is Leah Stewart of Southampton.

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