Author(s): Michael Booth
Without Hans Christian Andersen there would be no Alice in Wonderland, no Roald Dahl and maybe even no Harry Potter (and he has outsold them all), but few realise that the man who invented children's literature was also a pioneering travel writer. Having been dragged against his will to live in Denmark, Michael Booth discovered one of the great secrets of travel literature - Andersen's A Poet's Bazaar - a fascinating travelogue through a Europe on the cusp of revolution, by an author who, though a genius, was clearly a towering neurotic and proto-drama queen. He discovered, too, his chance to escape Denmark. In 1840 Andersen was also desperate to flee, writing as he sailed: 'It is just as well I am leaving, my soul is unwell!' In Germany he was enraptured both by steam travel and the fiery Franz Liszt. In sultry Naples this latent bisexual wrestled with his erotic demons before travelling to Athens (little more than a village), seeing the dervishes dance in Istanbul, and sailing home up the Danube, a journey fraught with danger, not least due to some inattentive leech salesmen. Booth follows him every step of the way, reflecting on Andersen's life, work and pathological self-obsession, encountering his own cast of characters, from an accommodating Hamburg prostitute to a bemused Danish Ambassador to the first ever female dervish, who whisks him off to meet her guru. In 2005 literature fans around the world will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Andersen's birth, making this funny, and occasionally moving, but mostly funny book even more timely.