The following 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 supply pounds 30 of book-tokens each week to the first correct answer out of the hat. Answers on a postcard to: Literally Lost, "Independent on Sunday", 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Usual competition rules apply. Entries to arrive by this Thursday.

Our favorite stroll was up to the lighthouse which stands high above the valley on Cape Zhonkiyer. When you gaze up at the lighthouse during the day, you see a tiny white house with a mast and lantern. In the dark of night it shines brilliantly, and it seems then that penal servitude peers at the world with its beautiful eye. The road to the lighthouse is steep, running in a spiral around the mountain amid ancient larches and firs. The higher you climb, the freer you breathe. The sea spreads out before your eyes, and slowly thoughts come into your mind which have nothing in common with the prison, nor with penal servitude, nor with the exile colony, and only here do you recognize how boring and difficult is life below.

The convicts and settlers bear their punishment from day to day while free people talk from morning to night about who was flogged, who escaped, who was caught and who will be flogged. And it is strange that in a week one grows accustomed to these conversations and preoccupations, and on waking in the morning the first thing you do is to read avidly the general orders - the local daily newspaper - and then all day long you listen to and speak about who escaped, who was shot, etc. But on the mountain, in sight of the sea and the beautiful ravines, all this becomes utterly trivial and vulgar, as indeed it is.

They say that at one time there were benches on the road to the lighthouse, but they had to remove them because convicts and settlers wandering along the path took to writing on them or carving lampoons and obscenities. There are many fanciers of smut living in freedom, but the cynicism of people sentenced to penal servitude is incomparable. There are disgusting scribbles on benches and backyard walls, and there are also love letters. It is remarkable that a man should write and carve all kinds of nasty things on benches while feeling that he is abandoned by the world, an outcast, and extremely unfortunate. An old man declares that he is tired of the world and it is time for him to die, he has severe rheumatism and cannot see very well, but with what gusto he employs endless gutter talk with long strings of choice invectives and highfalutin nonsense, including incantations against fevers. If he is literate and living in an isolated place, he has difficulty in stifling the urge or resisting the temptation to scratch dirty words with his fingernails.

Literally Lost 35

The winner will be announced next week.