My Holy War – Dispatches from the home front By Jonathan Raban
Reviewed by Sean Badal
Dear reader, once in a while a writer comes along that fits you like a comfortable, worn-out old pair of shoes. Now I wouldn’t like to compare Jonathan Raban to an old pair of shoes, but that’s more or less how I feel about his books, you kind of slip into them, and before you know it, you’re transported and transfixed.
Raban has been a fixture in my life for a very long time, ever since I was a teenager, and it’s oddly comforting to know that he’s still around and in full possession of all his faculties, unlike the dead white males I usually read. There’s always the anticipation of something new from his pen (I think he does actually write with a pen).
His travel books were more or less solely responsible for awakening my own travel desires. That’s the thing about Raban, he has a way of making you long for stuff that you never knew you could long for in the first place, if you get my drift. His book Arabia: A Journey Through the Labyrinth, which came out in 1979, was more or less single-handedly responsible for stirring up my own obsessive interest in the Middle East (okay there was Burton, but crikey, he was indigestible).
Raban’s new publication is not much of a book. It’s a flimsy collection of material culled from various lefty publications (mostly the Guardian) that he’s written for over the last couple of years.
If the book does have a leitmotiv, it’s in the author’s unrelenting attacks on the quackery of George Bush and his pet Chihuahua, Tony Blair. Both in the run-up to the war and its aftermath, the author has been one of the few elegant voices consistently speaking out against the obscene actions of these two war criminals. All the essays are presented here in a neat chronological package and the author’s integrity and single-minded consistency come shining through.
There are a couple of endearingly discursive pieces in the book. One of them, an essay titled termina camino rural , charts a road journey from Seattle to Baja, California, that he took with his eleven year-old daughter Julia, who is intent on improving her Spanish. It is warm-hearted and evocative, and recalls Raban’s last travel book. Passage to Juneau, where the author finds out during his sea trip that his wife is leaving him, and taking their four year old daughter.