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Hav (1985)

par Jan Morris

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3421058,735 (3.95)54
When the world's foremost travel writer describes the small city-state of Hav, it is unlike any of her other books. For Hav exists only in one special place - Jan Morris's imagination.
  1. 20
    The city & the city par China Miéville (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: Miéville's The City and the City acknowledges Jan Morris as an influence on his fractured cities novel, and Morris' travel book novel Hav (fictional trips to a fictional state) is the most likely reference.
  2. 31
    Orsinian Tales par Ursula K. Le Guin (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: Two imaginary countries, Hav and Orsinia, which are almost mind maps of their respective authors.
  3. 10
    The Golden Age par Michal Ajvaz (mark)
  4. 00
    The Mouse That Roared par Leonard Wibberley (owen1218)
  5. 00
    Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius [short story] par Jorge Luis Borges (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Short story beginning with the discovery of an encyclopedia article about a non-existent country called Uqbar.

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» Voir aussi les 54 mentions

Affichage de 1-5 de 10 (suivant | tout afficher)
Jan Morris travels to Hav in her imagination. Her words take us there with her. Together we learn that sometimes you can only truly understand the world via fantasy. Hav of Last Letters from Hav just should exist. A city state where Europe, Asia and Africa meet. Where every military or trading great power since ancient times has made its mark. Polyglot, multicultural, charming surface, alarming roof race, occasional chilly undercurrents and all. Hav of the Myrmidons just does exist, in so many places where slick marketing or politics has packaged up the messy realities of cultural heritage and sold it back to us as Heritage. Creating spaces safe for the 0.1% complete with resurrected roof races health ’n’ safetied to pointlessness. But where real life still goes on in the unintended cracks. Sheer brilliance twice over. ( )
2 voter Bernadette877 | Jun 2, 2015 |
Jan Morris has travelled more than you or I ever will, and has likewise thought about traveling more deeply and written about traveling more prolifically than all but a few people alive today. In Hav, Morris distills that experience for the reader, giving us a guided tour through the city of her imagination, which amalgamates many of the locations- and more importantly, the experiences- that Morris has been through during her life.

Don't expect fully realized characters or much of a plot, this book is almost pure setting. Hav has a dash of a dozen different cultures mixed together, both ancient and contemporary, less a melting pot than a salad with every piece distinct despite having been squished together. Impressively, despite the fact that intellectually you know that such a city can't exist, Morris makes it feel real. During the first fictional trip to Hav (entitled Last Letters from Hav) the character Jan visits the many different realms contained in Hav, from Chinese settlements to ancient Greek monuments to troglodytes living in the mountains to a caliph in hiding to a middle eastern medina to a meeting of a secret society. In her epilogue Morris discusses this first part as creating a city where the tension stems from overlapping history, motivated by Morris' realization that despite her extensive experience traveling she very rarely feels like she gets to know the places she is visiting, or understands exactly what is happening. It's the traveller's curse, and in the first part of the book Morris makes such a feeling manifest by presenting us a city so complex it can probably never be understood even by natives, much less by tourists. The first part ends as tensions begin to rise in Hav, and a war of sorts approaches. Morris expertly captures the extra layer of uncertainty felt by a traveller during such times of crises, when you sense things are going wrong but you don't quite have a firm enough footing on the underlying culture and society to say for sure.

The second part of the book is perhaps even more impressive, as Morris returns to Hav after the rise of certain ill-defined powers in the wake of the military intervention that ended the first part. Though it's not always entirely clear who the powers at work are, what they are doing is made obvious: the new administration is transforming Hav from the old clutter of cultures and ideologies into a streamlined economic hub and tourist destination. The ancient and strange bits of character that used to make the city special are being sanded down, the history of the city being manipulated- "brainwashing really"- for the sake of commercialization. Yet though this shift seems terrible through the eyes of a tourist, this new Hav often seems better for the actual inhabitants of the city. Better houses, more jobs, greater safety (the narrator and another character lament that the famous roof-race of Hav has been revamped to make it safer and more uniform, stripping it of all it's charm. Of course it's important to remember that the charm brought on by the old race's danger regularly resulted in the deaths of the participants). These benefits come at the cost of much of Hav's former culture, and it's strongly suggested that the new government is totalitarian in nature, but the transformation is still not black-and-white.

Hav is a fascinating book, letting you experience the many questions that Morris has wrestled with throughout her travels without ever beating you over the head with them. Through the city of Hav you experience the feel of a dozen different cities, and experience a city changing from one of old but unique delights to one of generic manufactured cleanliness and prosperity. It's not for everyone, as the volume is essentially just the wanderings and wonderings of a travel writer through a fictional city sans plot or characters, and there's rarely any sense of urgency for you to turn the page, but if the idea of experiencing how a travel writer has seen the world and its evolution appeals to you then I highly recommend that you pick it up. ( )
1 voter BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
Despite irritating minor typos (not even corrected in the paperback edition) this is a wonderful book obsessing on dualities: ancient and modern, East and West, Light and Dark, land and sea, transparency and the occluded. The addition of Hav of the Myrmidons in 2006 to the 1985 Last Letters from Hav (presumably written as if to Morris' partner Elizabeth) adds to that sense of duality: as the earlier Letters ended a half year of somnolent unreality with the brutal suddenness of the Intervention, so does the mirroring second half of Hav end a six day tour of puzzling contradictions with a brusque departure.

Hav appears to be an independent state on a peninsula of Asia Minor, close enough to the known site of Troy to have been considered, Morris suggests, a contender; like Troy it has been coveted by other nation states, squabbled over by invading armies and temporarily ruled by transient empires. Hav itself is like an amalgam of all those liminal territories such as Hong Kong or Trieste that Morris herself has visited for her travelogues, and resonant with echoes of a few other polities such as Istanbul or Malta which have been at the crossroads of cultures. The Hav of the 1980s is a little quaint, a relic of its past histories but decaying in its inertia. While no less Kafkaesque post-9/11 Hav no longer retains its picture postcard attraction: all that has mostly been swept away by the sinister but shadowy forces behind the Intervention, leaving tourists in a modernist enclave and a population that is even more reticent to disclose what, if anything, is controlling Hav.

Morris' persona observes topography and demography alike with poetry and seeming ingenuousness, her descriptive and narrative skills making much of her imaginary land very real and believable. In the 1980s you mourn the imminent passing of an exotic state that has become anachronistic; in the new millennium you despair of the faceless machine that it has become. While Morris gets to meet many of her previous 1986 acquaintances in 2005, she is unable to get to the heart of what Hav has really become, though we can guess that the state has succumbed to the fate of many a nation turned totalitarian and subjected to a cultural revolution.

For anyone remotely interested in history and culture and in dialogue and interaction Morris' book has much to admire and celebrate. Aided by two outline maps separated by two decades, plus uncredited sketches presumably by Morris herself (the second group clearly being executed in seeming haste), she artlessly delineates the surviving architecture and hinterland of Hav City, blending the rich heritages of the Mediterranean and beyond into what at first seems an idealised backwater jewel surviving on past glories but which violently metamorphoses into another faceless metropolis of thrusting highrise structures, epitomised by the 2000-ft Myrmidonic Tower rivalling anything that Dubai can offer and twice as high as the Eiffel Tower or the London Shard.

I've already mentioned the notion of dualities that permeates Hav which is underlined by the Manichaean religion of the Cathar sect that emerges in the first part to rule the Holy Myrmidonic Republic in the second. The other notion that saturates the novel is the circular labyrinth, and though Morris never illustrates the exact form that this takes it is clear that it is not the simple unicursal or Cretan labyrinth that we have to imagine but the multicursal maze with numerous dead ends, where often as we seem to be approaching the centre the path veers off confusingly in another direction. And it is in the conjunction of duality and labryrinth that I think we have to find a key to what Hav is about.

Morris seems well aware of the contradictions that she encapsulates: gender-reassigned herself, she has veered from active service as a soldier in World War II to reportage as a travel-writer post-surgery. Her mother was English, and she was born in Somerset (perhaps the region referred to in a medieval Latin pun as 'the Summer Country'); her father was Welsh, however, and she certainly regards herself as Welsh, so it is noteworthy that she surmises that the name of Hav is derived from a pan-Celtic word meaning 'summer'. The puns don't just stop there. Morris is of course a common Welsh name, which may owe its popularity not just to medieval Norman influence but also ultimately to the Roman name Mauricius, from maurus meaning Moorish or dark-skinned, and which is thus a wonderfully ambivalent name.

A solution of sorts to the enigma that is Hav may come from the image of the pencil-thin Myrmidonic Tower that ends the novel. Standing moreorless centrally on the Lazaretto island, with its streets deliberately laid out in labyrinthine fashion, the tower looks down on a Borgesian pattern that most resembles the folds of a human brain. At the very close of the final chapter, as Morris flies from Hav for the last time as a persona non grata, she spies the giant letter M at the Tower's summit "shining there fainter and fainter, smaller and smaller," and she speculates on what the letter really stands for. Myrmidons, the legendary warriors of Achilles? Manichaean? Maze? "Or, could it possibly be ... 'M' for Me?" She can't really be clearer, I think: M is for Morris, the tourist who visits liminal places which exist only in her mind. What a privilege then that she agrees to share her experiences with us. ( )
3 voter ed.pendragon | Apr 20, 2012 |
Hav by the Welsh travel writer Jan Morris is a very Borgesian work, bringing to mind the Argentinean writer’s love for mirrors and labyrinths. There is even a character named Dr. Borge and Hav’s major cultural motif is the labyrinth. Morris achieves distinction in creating a place that goes beyond being a second-rate pastiche of Borges themes. Unfortunately, the field of science fiction is riddled with examples of good ideas soured when executed. Poor execution usually involves with sloppy writing that denotes the author received payment by the word.

New York Review Books has released a stellar volume with Jan Morris’s Hav. The book compiles her two works of science fiction, Last Letters from Hav (1985) and Hav of the Myrmidons (2006). The volume also includes an introduction by science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin and an epilogue by the author. In the introduction Le Guin notes how readers began booking trips to Hav, not knowing it was fiction. After reading Morris’s Destinations: Essays from Rolling Stone, one can understand the reader’s oversight of Hav’s non-existence. Her travel essays for Rolling Stone, written in the 1970s, envelop the reader with a keenly constructed sense of place, quirky characters, and a narrative drive, though not necessarily plot-based. This non-fiction writing is reflected in her fiction, creating a plausible locale. Hav, a tiny Mediterranean peninsula off of Anatolia, possesses a culture frozen in amber, isolated from the world at large, but also an amalgamation of Eastern and Western cultures reflective of the wars, conquests, and commerce that passed through the area.

Last Letters sees Hav as a sleepy community with an outdated bureaucracy, an ambiguous British colonial political presence, and a multicultural kaleidoscope. On the Escarpment reside the primitive Kretevs. Arabs, Greeks, and Chinese reside in their own ethnic enclaves. Hav has the westernmost settlement of Chinese, owing to the proximity of the Silk Road. The Venetian and Russian empires made their marks in art and architecture. A muezzin cries along with Missakian’s trumpet call, a remnant of the Crusader’s retreat. The back cover summary describes Hav as having “chaotic and contradictory splendor.”

One should note that this is not alternate history. Hav’s fate follows the ebb and tide of history, albeit from the perspective of a geographic asterisk. A humorous passage in Last Letters involves the local intellectual circle hating Ferdinand Braudel because he never mentioned Hav in his monumental survey The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. Le Guin states in the introduction,

"Probably Morris, certainly her publisher, will not thank me for saying Hav is in fact science fiction, of a perfectly recognizable type and superb quality. The “sciences” or areas of expertise involved are social – ethnology, sociology, political science, and above all, history."

Morris’s writing is what makes Hav such a treasure to read. Described as a “romantic traditionalist Welsh author,” she approaches travel at a different speed and pitch than Anthony Bourdain. Morris’s character of Jan Morris is indistinguishable from her presence in her non-fiction travel essays. She seems like a nice middle-aged lady who, despite all evidence to the contrary, sees the best in people and has the bad habit of asking awkward questions to stage-managed power brokers. Not conservative in the vulgar faux populist mutation common to the United States, but one whose conservatism cherishes the artifacts and lessons of the past and seeks to preserve them for future generations.

Morris’s “traditionalist” leaning comes to the fore in the sequel, Hav of the Myrmidons. Morris returns to Hav twenty years later to find a series of unsettling changes. Following the Intervention, Hav is now a theocracy run by the Cathars, a Christian heresy long thought extinct. The Holy Myrmidonic Republic of Hav exists both as a Catharist theocracy and as an emerging capitalist power. A new airport, highway, and resort hotel – the Lanzaretto! tower – have been carved out of the rubble. One thinks of Dubai and China’s emergent industrial hubs, whereas Old Hav bespoke of Danzig or Trieste, political “free cities” with their own syncretic cultures.

A chilling episode occurs when Jan is invited to a meeting at the ominously named Office of Ideology. She meets Hav’s political deputies. “They reminded me of the ideologues of apartheid who, long before, had greeted me with similar earnest solemnity at Stellenbosch in South Africa.” Nothing is more stultifying and possibly unintentionally comical than the long-winded prattling of a totalitarian state’s cog, all ideological purity and true believer crazy eyes. In Destinations (1980), she summarized the ideology of apartheid as “the intricate political device – part mysticism, part economics, part confidence trick – by which the white race maintains its supremacy over the blacks.” With its omnipresent icon of Achilles’s helmet, Hav expresses that same combination. The Greek community on San Spiridon, an outlying island, has become reborn, albeit with a troubling fanaticism.

This new iteration of Hav reflects the Post-911 world in its admixture of aggressive free market capitalism and political authoritarianism. One need only look at China (and the countless Chinese products we all buy without a second thought) or the political autarkies of Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin. The United States has catered to the whims of dictators, so long as the bananas were cheap and the despot made the appropriate anti-communist slogans. Morris reverses Marx’s quote by showing the old Hav as a farce and New Hav as tragedy. Hav is on the make, aspiring to rekindle its Venetian or Arabic drive to link itself again to a global marketplace. Morris wonders at the human and cultural costs of those aspirations. Is the material gain accrued from integrating with globalization really worth it, especially if all one caters to are incurious tourists blathering on about a place’s safety and comfort? Travel without risk, at least the risk of random discovery, is a pointless endeavor. Reading Hav is not. ( )
8 voter kswolff | Oct 2, 2011 |
A wonderful novel collecting "Last letters from Hav", published in 1985, and a fictional revisiting of Hav called "Hav of the Myrmidons" published in 2006.
The novel is written in a normal travel book fashion, giving Jan Morris' impressions of life in Hav, a small independent Mediterranean country in the Middle East, somewhere near Turkey and Lebanon. It is very well imagined and peopled by a believable set of characters from Hav and nationalities that have settled there over the centuries and it is this very richly imagined history of Hav that gives it such depth and the feeling of reality.
The novel can be read as allegory, but that is to over simplify Jan Morris' intentions, I think, which is to provide a deeper analysis of our sense of place and history.
A very enjoyable read. ( )
2 voter CarltonC | Aug 31, 2011 |
Affichage de 1-5 de 10 (suivant | tout afficher)
Except such a statement, though it perhaps conveys a certain sense of Hav, is too reductive for what Morris has accomplished here in a book that is quietly but consistently true to its own internal logic, and to the vision it presents. The proof of Hav's excellence lies in its inability to be summarized in any satisfactory way. The book, then, is like the place it describes: impossible to pin down, an evocative enigma, a dream construction that spreads itself beyond the borders of a dream.
ajouté par doomjesse | modifierGuardian UK (Jun 3, 2006)

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But what if light and shade should be reversed?
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Hav (also called Hav: Comprising Last Letters from Hav; Hav of the Myrmidons; 2006) was published twenty years after Last Letters from Hav (1985), and includes the original work plus an extension (thus the explanatory subtitle). The extension is a significant addition to the work. Please do not combine Hav with Last Letters from Hav. Thank you.
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When the world's foremost travel writer describes the small city-state of Hav, it is unlike any of her other books. For Hav exists only in one special place - Jan Morris's imagination.

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