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I recently got an exciting opportunity to review the book, Epic Continent: Adventures in the Great Stories of Europe by Nicholas Jubber, and I’m very happy to bring a new kind of travel review (yay books!) to LaurenGlobeTravel.com!
As you all know, I love to travel and I love history. I also love humanities, and Jubber’s book combines all three of these interests into one package for me.
The premise of the non-fiction book is that, through travel around modern Europe to places where major events in epic poetry occurred, Jubber explores the importance that these pseudo-historic tales had on the shaping of the present and past culture of different regions in Europe, as well as how those songs and poems still manifest in the people living in those regions today.
Jubber, for example, travels around Greece looking for modern images and expressions of characters and events from The Odyssey, while also talking to locals about what the poem means to them. He explores themes about the clash between the Christian West and the Islamic East in The Kosovo Cycle, while he listens to former Bosnians, Serbs, Albanians, and the people of Kosovo talk about their experiences in the conflicts of the 1990s, while also occasionally getting to listen to working men let off steam drinking in a bar, applauding loudly for his neighbor when they finish off the last bellows of a sung poem amidst puffs of smoke. He travels to Greece, Italy, Spain, Basque Country, France, England, and Iceland by bus, train, and foot, exploring the connections between present and past.
The book is both fascinating and exhausting. When I put the book down between readings, I often feel as if I’ve climbed up rocky ledges with no paths, worn through more than one pair of shoes, and felt vulnerable and alone in the face of overwhelming history and death before being welcomed into a warm tavern, given a hearty meal and good conversation and being reminded of the open hospitality of mankind. What an emotional adventure.
I love learning, and epic poetry has never been my preferred read, but Epic Continent makes the tales of heroes, maidens, dragons, kings, swords and slaughter and honor and power almost sentimentally familiar and more accessible to me. On top of getting to know the main characters of each epic better, I am able to explore the history of different regions of Europe in ways that I understand more, as well as to understand the meanings of place to the cultures of the people who live around Europe today.
For LaurenGlobeTravel, of course, the travel itself is the most important part of this adventurous book. I honestly feel more inclined to explore parts of Europe that I was initially indifferent to now that I have read Epic Continent. I cannot wait to see the Basque regions between France and Spain, and I feel like a trip to the Serbian areas of Eastern Europe would be much safer than I perhaps would have assumed, as well as welcoming, and perhaps would help me learn more about my own city, which has a very large Bosnian and Albanian population. Jubber’s vivid descriptions of the people and places he encountered are like watching a movie narrated by an incredibly intellectual and intelligent director. Reading his work has made me a better reader, a better writer, and a better traveler.
For all the fascinating aspects of Epic Continent, I have to admit that the book makes me uncomfortable. Still, that is one of the things I like about it: the author is authentic and honest. The grime of epic poetry becomes real in his book, from discussing mental health to sleeping on the floors of train stations, losing toenails in public baths, and discussing controversial politics with immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. I have to admire the adventure in Jubber’s travels. He could have easily written the book with the impression that he slept in hotels and AirBnBs the whole time and encountered no problems, as I likely would have done, but instead, I walk away from the book with curious admiration, knowing that I could never take the same journey he did. Surely this was done on purpose. Jubber set out to encounter the real Europe and to explore the real influence of epics on the people living there today. Bypassing the easy route others would take, Epic Continent tackles travel in Europe head-on, and Jubber’s journey becomes its own epic.
If you’re interested in reading Epic Continent, you can click here to view more information about the book on Amazon.com (please note, this is an affiliate link that could earn me a small commission at no cost to you if you make a purchase).
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