Poetry Madness

The Atlantic Monthly
Tuesday, July 15th, 2003


A Visit to Don Otavio: A Traveller's Tale from Mexico

by Sybille Bedford

A review by Benjamin Schwarz

Bedford — that fantastically glamorous, cosmopolitan writer — spent the Second World War penned up in Manhattan; before her return to England she "had a great longing to move, to hear another language, eat new food; to be in a country with a long nasty history in the past and as little present history as possible." So she traveled through Mexico with a woman friend. She took no notes, but she sent postcards; when she got back to London, she called her correspondents to collect those cards and started writing. The result was this, her first book and — by wide agreement — one of the great works of travel literature. Bedford is a hard, even somewhat cynical writer, but she "wanted to make something light and poetic," and her sharp eye and precise language allowed her to fashion this enormously sensuous work. (Bruce Chatwin declared, "When the history of modern prose in English comes to be written, Mrs. Bedford will have to appear in any list of its most dazzling practitioners." Without question.) Sporadically out of print, it has just been reissued. Buy and read this marvel.

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