Europe in the Looking Glass, By Robert Byron


Christopher Hirst
Friday 09 March 2012 01:00 GMT

As the delectable reading on Radio 4's Book of the Week demonstrated, this first work by Robert Byron (1905-41) is more approachable and funny than The Road to Oxiana, usually regarded as his chef d'oeuvre.

Perceptive in its observation of 1925 Europe ("Italy is the victim not so much of a dictatorship but...of an armed mob"), his account varies from the alien ("children covered with sores dispensing prawns, shoe polish, lives of saints and improper novels" have vanished from Athenian cafés) to the deeply familiar.

The road from Naples to Salerno remains thronged with traffic "directed by neither police nor by its drivers". Funny and humane, this book is a corrective to the allure of the past.

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