Books · Displays · Film

Volunteers Week: Real Adventures

From 31st May, the Information Store will be celebrating Volunteers Week. You can check out our blog post on fictional journeys here, or read on for some real-life tales from inspirational travellers.

Jackie Kay, the former partner of laureate Carol Ann Duffy, was born in the 1960s. Her mixed heritage and illegitimate status made her an immediate target for bullies in Glasgow, where she lived with her white adoptive parents. When she has a son of her own, Kay decides trace her birth parents. Jackie’s mother’s Catholic faith played a huge part in her decision to have Jackie adopted- “nice” unmarried Catholic girls didn’t get pregnant back then, especially by a non-white non-Catholic men. To her surprise, Jackie finds her mother has converted to Mormonism and raised several other mixed race children- Jackie’s half-sisters- with her Black husband. When Jackie arrives in Lagos to meet her father, the locals believe she is white and openly try to touch her hair and skin; her father perceives her as innately sinful, and expects Jackie to dedicate herself to the church as penance. Her adoptive parents’ lack of faith- and their support for the Communist Party- placed them firmly at the bottom of the waiting list in Edinburgh’s adoption agency, until they said they would be happy to raise a non-white child. Jackie was shaped by politics rather than religion, but her birth parents each see the world through a very different lens. Is it possible for adults with irreconcilable views to maintain a bond, or even a friendship? Red Dust Road was named Scottish Book of the Year in 2011, and was performed on Radio 4 by Jackie herself. Find it over at NORFOLK HOUSE 823.92 KAY.

red dust road

Less than 20,000 Scottish people identified as mixed race in the 2011 census. in 1960 the figure would have been much lower.

Wild (BOOK ZONE 304.2 GRI) is divided into five sections: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Ice. Author Jay Griffiths originally set out to obtain ayahuasca, drink it, hallucinate, cure her depression and head back home. She ended up exploring all seven continents, researching the effects of ecological destruction on indigenous tribespeople. Jay’s poetic style has divided reviewers and her views on western Christianity have been described as extreme. But it is hard not to be moved by the countless murders committed by those who tried- and are still trying- to steal land and resources. Jay recognises the same essential “wild spirit” in Native people from Australia to the Amazon; her follow-up Pip Pip studies the different beliefs held by the tribes in more depth, and together the books show just how much we stand to lose if we homogenise our language, eradicate religion and pave over our wild spaces. Fans of Wild include singer/songwriter KT Tunstall, The Strokes bassist Nikolai Fraiture and Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien. We recommend it to older students only, due to Jay’s use of strong language, and frequent references to sex and drug use- you can encounter a lot during seven years abroad!

wild by jay griffiths

Ayahuasca is a powerful hallucinogenic used as a spiritual medicine

Into the Wild (796.522 KRA) is the true story of Christopher McCandless, a student who left his privileged life behind to seek out solitude in Alaska. Armed with only a rifle, a few bags of rice and a book on local flora, “Alexander Supertramp” survived just a few months before his body succumbed to exposure, starvation and poisoning. The book, which began as a longform essay in a magazine, looks at the authors that influenced Christopher- Henry Thoreau, who documented his attempts to live a simpler life in Walden (BOOK ZONE 818 THO) and Jack London, who wrote The Call of the Wild after contracting scurvy during a harsh winter in the Klondike. The 2007 film adaptation uses flashbacks to reveal McCandless’ earlier, failed attempts to find spiritual enlightenment. He visits Slab City, a commune in the California desert, and almost falls for an underage girl, played by Kristen Stewart. He spends a few months learning how to craft leather, but leaves as soon as he finishes his personal project. The book and the film are both sceptical of McCandless’ careless and often selfish attempt to live in a manner he is unaccustomed to- he refuses to take any proper camping equipment or  tell his family where he is headed, and slaughters countless animals because he unable to properly skin and preserve the carcasses. In the last photo McCandless took of himself, he is holding a sign which reads “I have had a happy life and thank the lord, Goodbye”. A note found close to his caravan read “I am all alone, this is no joke. In the name of God (…) save me”. We can assume that as he grew weaker, McCandless longed to see another human being. The moral of this story: have a back-up plan!!

into the wild

Salvation Mountain is a giant piece of Outsider art by Slab City resident Leonard King. Scenes were filmed here for 2007’s Into the Wild 

The Motorcycle Diaries (BOOK ZONE 823.91 GUE) is an account of the journey which transformed young Doctor Ernesto Guevara into the Communist revolutionary ‘Ché’. Ernesto and his friend Alberto give themselves four months to see as much of South America as possible, before Ernesto must return to Buenos Aires to complete his medical degree. Their first stop is Chile, where they pass themselves off as world-renowned doctors in order to access copper mines run by unscrupulous “gringos”. They stay with peasant farmers who struggle to carve a living on the sides of Machu Picchu, and work in a leper colony in the Amazon basin, completely cut off from basic medical supplies. By the time they reach Colombia, Ernesto is convinced that revolution, in the form of a military coup, is the only way to free the people from the corrupt, right-wing government. Six years later he led the Cuban revolution. Though Ché’s diaries were not published until 1993, critics claim he invented some encounters to support his political position. However, it is clear that something happened on Che’s travels to make him reject his middle class upbringing and become a guerrilla fighter. The 2004 movie adaptation (DVD LOBBY 791.430946) was directed by Walter Salles, who also adapted On the Road in 2012. It took actor Gael Garcia Bernal three nights to successfully swim across the Amazon River to the same leper colony where Ché worked!

motorcycle diaries

Llamas graze near Machu Picchu, Peru. Llamas are sometimes used as guard animals! 

Are you interested in volunteering in Norfolk or overseas this summer? Check out the display in the Information Store until 06/06/2016.


O’Connell, M Great Western Road 1960 accessed at on 27/04/2016

Henao, J Preparación de ayahuasca con chacruna accessed at on 27/04/2016

Rose, V Salvation Mountain California accessed at on 27/04/2016 Machu Pichu accessed at on 27/04/2016




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