In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

Samuel’s SlaveCaroline Moorehead

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Lover on the Nile 
by Richard Hall.
Collins, 254 pp., £7.95, February 1980, 9780002164719
Show More
Nellie: Letters from Africa 
by Elspeth Huxley.
Weidenfeld, 326 pp., £8.95, March 1980, 0 297 77706 8
Show More
Black Country Girl in Red China 
by Esther Cheo Ying.
Hutchinson, 191 pp., £5.95, January 1980, 9780091390808
Show More
Show More

‘And do you think, Dame Freya,’ an interviewer once asked Freya Stark, ‘that travel broadens the mind?’ There was a pause. The explorer pondered; a distant, reflective gaze settled on her face. The young man sat back, well pleased to see his question taken so seriously: for a minute, he could have been forgiven for thinking he was onto a winner. At last it became clear that Dame Freya was about to pronounce. He lent forward, expectantly. ‘No,’ the clear voice enunciated with extreme finality. ‘No.’ There was nothing more to be said.

Travel books, like no other, and perhaps not like travel, possess that peculiar charm of being able to carry the reader for an instant of irresponsibility from the gloom of a northern winter afternoon into the heat of the tropics. They leave a smell of the impossible. Individually they may not be profound; they may not, like travel, be broadening. But the pleasure and the power are enormous. This taste of the unfamiliar has of course to come from the travellers themselves, from their expectations and their sense of the new. It is what they bring with them, and what, exhausted, exhilarated or astonished, they carry away.

Lovers on the Nile is Richard Hall’s account of Samuel Baker’s voyage in search of the Mountains of the Moon with his young companion Florence. It is not so much a biography as the story of a seven-year travelling honeymoon. In fact, the book flows at an easy pace, but only once the lovers are embarked upon their journey: before that, in the summary of Baker’s early life and the background to the expedition, the narrative falters a little. As with so many Victorian travels, the voyage itself is almost indescribable in its litany of disasters. The reader marvels at the way the travellers survived. But survive they did, and they were still the people they were when they set out, even though they had been physically attacked, and had come down with repeated bouts of malaria and dysentry. For one entire week Florence was unconscious with exhaustion and heat stroke, having fallen into a coma while crossing a swamp. She awoke to the sound of men digging her grave.

In 1851, having been thwarted by the Royal Geographic Society in his desire to join Livingstone in Central Africa, and prevented from looking for Speke and Burton, then in search of the vast lakes that were said to be the sources of the Nile, Samuel Baker left London with the effete-looking Maharajah Duleep Singh to shoot wild boar in Serbia and bears in Transylvania. The pair got stuck in Widdin, the main Turkish fortress in the Balkans. To pass the time, they attended a slave auction, and it was there that Baker, a widower with four daughters – who was never in his life to mention the incident – bought a slave girl, a slim, small teenage Hungarian called Florenz Barbara Maria Finian. She was 17, he was 38.

The event, and his new, not easily explained companion, only made him more keen to travel, to escape the prying eyes of his family for the time he needed to sort out what he would do about her. Now, as he set his mind more firmly on Africa, he wrote nothing of Florence’s existence, but explained somewhat tendentiously: ‘I am going to Khartoum, and thence God only knows where, in search of the sources of the Nile.’ The future Lady Baker’s first home in Africa was a thatch and wood hut on the banks of the Atbara, where Florence laid out a piece of chintz and placed on it her brushes, her scent and a mirror. It is at this point that the extraordinariness of this little-known story starts to carry the book along.

Neither then, nor later, was Florence prepared to be a mere camp follower. ‘She was not,’ declared Baker with pride, ‘a screamer.’ She soon became a good shot, she learnt some Arabic, she sewed Samuel a pair of laced gaiters out of gazelle leather to keep out the thorns. And when Speke, with whom they finally met up at Gondokoro, advised Baker to go in search of the Dead Locust Lake, since, as he put it, the ‘Nile is settled,’ there was no question but that she would go too. She left for the march into the interior in loosely-cut breeches and knee-length gaiters.

And yet the Florence who returned with Baker to England stares out of the Victorian photograph with all the primness and trappings of a colonial wife. If her eyes look rather wild, her jaw a little defiant, they are the only things that betray the irregularity of her position: that, Baker’s companion for seven perilous and tempestuous years, she was still not his wife. Samuel Baker and Florence arrived in London on the day of Palmerston’s funeral; they were married as soon as a special license could be obtained, and then, but only then, did Baker tell his daughters about their step-mother.

In 1870 the Bakers were off again. By now the man who had discovered and named Lake Albert and the Murchison Falls had been knighted, fêted by the London social and literary world, and befriended by the Prince of Wales. (Florence, universally acclaimed and admired, had still not been received by Queen Victoria, who had somehow got wind of the illicit seven years.) This second trip, to bring ‘peace, commerce and freedom’ to the centre of the African continent, was yet more frightful than the first. At one point the Bakers were surrounded by hostile tribes, their companions were murdered and they themselves nearly perished. Never did Florence seem to lose her calm: but never, either, did she lose that sense of rightness that seems to sustain the Victorian heroines, the feeling that the example and worth of what they stand for must be so overwhelmingly apparent to anyone who sees it that it cannot but triumph. In the house the Bakers built for themselves at Masindi, in the Kingdom of Kabba Rega, they hung gold-framed mirrors, sporting prints and life-sized posters of beautiful women in evening dress. It was all part of the absolute certainty that by imposing etiquette and ritual on alien and hostile surroundings, they could at the same time impose order of a familiar kind.

Florence set off on her journey up the Nile in 1861. Half a century later, another Englishwoman arrived in Africa: Nellie Grant. The continent she found was vastly different from the one Florence Baker left: tamed, colonised. But she, too, brought with her that immutable image of herself as English, as responsible, as fair. The record she kept in Nellie: Letters from Africa is a monument to that breed of Late Victorian travelling lady. She also brought with her great charm, and the solidity that comes from a conviction that what you are doing is right. Dora Russell made the point perfectly in the first volume of her autobiography: ‘As citizens of the British Empire we had been indoctrinated in a rather smug dignity, which offered us certain privileges, but at the same time, certain responsibilities. Maybe we had little need to search for our identity, it was only too well established for us.’

Nellie Grant was 27, not that much older than Florence, when she arrived in the East African Protectorate, as Kenya was called before World War One, to 500 acres of fertile and very wild country at Thika, 30 miles north of Nairobi. First here, later at Njoro in the Rift valley, Nellie farmed usually on her own, beset by drought, flood and financial ruin, but experimenting all the time with different herds, new vegetables, strange crops and a variety of poultry. In the evenings, she wrote letters to her daughter Elspeth Huxley in England. These shrewd, funny, very touching letters, sometimes gossipy, sometimes wry, form the bulk of Nellie: Letters from Africa and span 40 years, taking in the Mau Mau raids alongside all the minutiae of a dogged and staunch lady who wished not to complain but to entertain. ‘Mothers,’ she told Elspeth. ‘aren’t good subjects for biography unless like Queen Victoria or Cleopatra,’ and her daughter has prefaced these well-edited letters with a short and affectionate memoir.

Nellie Grant came as a settler to Kenya but she was in one sense at least no less of a traveller than Florence Baker. Kenya was home, but home only of a sort because the references remained English. December 11, 1935:

I did a come-back, also a come-off, in the polo world as Mrs Tyron wired asking me to take her place in the Mau-Molo ladies’ team ... The N’bi females are hot stuff, and really play very well ... Trudie has sent me £15 for Christmas, saying I was to spend nine-tenths of it on gin and one-tenth on a broken window pane ... Actually I’m taking some out in petrol to go to N’bi on Sunday to judge a flower show, one of my secret vices as you know, and to buy a few blankets for the more deserving of the farm and domestic staff.

The sense of identity never falters. Nor does the sense of comedy, the enjoyable self-mockery that comes with the realisation that African reality often pairs absurdly with European habits. ‘There are two huge puff adders on the boundary – such a worry because of the dogs ... Porcupines are eating my spuds.’ Or, on the outbreak of war: ‘Had about a hundred Kikuyu in the sitting room today to listen to the weekly broadcast. They certainly enjoy it.’ There are pairs of socks to knit for the Red Cross, California fuchsias to nurture for the regular flower shows; there are sundowners, safaris and tea parties. The life is hard but good. The setting could, sometimes, be Dorset.

The wives of the modern equivalent of colonial settlers – the aid technicians of the developing countries – arrive today in the countries to which they are sent by jet, in a matter of hours, but with the same paraphernalia of preconceptions, the same need to impose the conditions and habits of home on the acute foreignness of what they encounter in order to make it manageable. But they have lost the sustaining sense of rightness. Having just spent a year in West Africa, I remember the narrowness of these womens’ lives, the shock I felt when I watched new arrivals recreate, with a sort of avid desperation, the image of home, hastening to fasten unsuitable ornaments to improbable places and bake cakes in temperatures that defied all cooking, simply to combat the alienness of it all. Magnificent hi-fi sets, the latest in Japanese perfection, lovingly set up on specially-built bamboo shelves, soon to be thwarted by the flickering, often altogether absent, electricity supply.

When I moved into my house in Bamako, the previous tenant, a Canadian woman, showed me round, offering to sell me the baking tins brought with her to Mali from Montreal. There were 12 of them, one piled inside the other, a gleaming pyramid of stainless steel. When I refused, she was perplexed, a little condescending. She told me, almost with regret towards one so unappreciative, that my oven-to-be was the only one in Bamako whose thermostat could be relied upon.

When you come to Mali
You take a chance –
That the people there will like to dance
And play bridge and drink beer
And be full of good cheer ...

A la fin d’Avril
Au revoir Judy-Bill.
Nous nous verrons encore
Peut-être a Singapore,

sang the guests in the garden at the Canadian couple’s farewell party. They were moving on next day to Guinea Bissau.

In Niamey, in Niger, the American US Aid programme have shipped in fifty tall chrome ashtrays on stalks to decorate their offices. The ballast in these objects is sand. Niamey stands on the edge of the Sahara: sand returned to sand, all in the name of safety.

During my stay, I was invited on a couple of occasions to a weekly bridge morning. Sixteen women in their thirties and forties, children at the French lycée, babies with their nannies, met at 9 a.m. each Thursday for four rubbers of bad bridge, broken by elevenses: chocolate eclairs, crammed with cream, strawberry tarts, mille feuille, and wilting towers of blancmange and marzipan, sponge and angelica, baked by the sweating hostess to prove her domination, her mastery of the heat, cockroaches the size of mice, the unfamiliar mangoes and pau pau. Nor were these women pleasant to the people who waited on them: Nellie Grant’s decency, her feeling of fair, if superior play, was not much in evidence. Impatience was everywhere.

There are still sundowners and safaris, brownie packs and even barbecues and 7-Ups (for the mother culture is now American) flown in on a special food plane in vast refrigerated containers. But now the message is endurance, allied to the salesman’s nagging uncertainty whether the goods he is peddling are genuine: but sell them he must for that is his job, and unless he has customers he can never go home. Going home, to the house paid for out of the generous local posting allowance, is the dream; to stay on is pure eccentricity; to love the country quirkiness. ‘Where are you going next? Where were you before? How long have you been here?’ are the first questions at every meeting.

If you possess no sense of identity on your travels you have, it seems, to fabricate one. Nellie Grant had it automatically, conferred by the Empire; Florence Baker acquired one; Esther Cheo Ying, author of Black Country Girl in Red China, has written a remarkable account of a search for one that suited her, and one that she eventually found.

The child of a brilliant young student at the London School of Economics and the chambermaid in his hotel, Esther Cheo Ying was born in Canton in 1932. By the time war broke out she was back in England. There began her search for her identity. She started it in the Midlands where she was taken in by a succession of foster parents, ending up with a fond auntie but taunted as a Chink Chink Chinaman at school. She pursued it back to China, married to one of General Chennault’s Flying Tigers, but by the time she got there she had switched sides and was part of the triumphant entry into Peking as a cadre in the Chinese Liberation Army. For 11 years she willed herself into being Chinese: she joined the political campaigns and revered the political leaders, living a life of discipline and becoming the lover of her unit commander. The style is racy; the opinions tinged with pertness.

But in the end Esther Cheo Ying got out. She married a foreigner, and, long under suspicion as a revisionist and not wanting to have to ‘learn to love labour’, she seized her chance and came back to Europe. The search was not yet over. Her second husband was a correspondent for the Daily Worker and lost his British passport over the Korean War. The couple, with their two small sons, made their way to East Berlin, where the life turned out to be not so very different from the one she had led as English-language broadcaster for the Peking Radio. After a while she moved on again, her destination, once more, England. Within a year she had met and married a man who is now the editor of a West Country newspaper. Esther Cheo Ying, not quite Chinese, not quite English, has found what she was looking for in the shape of being a mother of three children, and the headmistress of a small village school.

Black Country Girl in Red China is a fascinating book, because of the rare glimpses it gives of the Chinese Republic, as seen by a muddled, earthy and rather funny young woman who refused to be cajoled or beaten into shape, and who simply writes it all down, politics, the army, love affairs and all, without any distancing digestion. She travelled in search of identity, and she found it: for Esther Cheo Ying, there is to be no more travel.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.