And Other Voyages, by Robin Magowan. San Diego: Mho and Mho Works. 1986. 127 pp. $8.95. Paperback. Useful as they are for information about other countries, travel books are also valuable as guides to travel itself. By revealing what others have made of their journeys, they also help us think about our own.
For Robin Mogowan, travel is as much an inward as an outward endeavor. Not only does he view travel as a form of self-exploration, a search for ``a key with which to unlock the treasure of your own buried imagination''; in addition, his writings suggest that the key to one's own imagination is also the key to another culture, that the act of apprehending another culture is intensely personal.
``And Other Voyages'' is a collection of six pieces about separate journeys taken during the past two decades - to Persia (Iran), Lesbos, Zambia, Madagascar, Nepal, and the Auxois. Magowan is a poet, and this is evident both in his prose and in his observations: his writing is compressed, his experience conveyed through imagery.
Magowan's style is especially effective in conveying his impressions of Persia, a land he finds vague, almost fictive. ``In a country of mainly desert where everything must be built of mud and smacks of impermanence,'' he remarks, ``little survives that has not been willed.'' The ``smallest of operations,'' he finds, take on a ``complexity as abstract and untranslatable as Persian poetry,'' and amidst a ``medley of elaborately sustained illusion the mosque appears immensely real - the desert reincarnated within walls of tile.''
Setting one's path to a foreign country through personal territory poses the risk of self-involvement, and several of Magowan's less interesting pieces are too focused on himself. But in the best, the author finds his key - in Lesbos, it is the dances at the saint's day festivals, and in Nepal, a difficult trek over the Tesi Lapcha glacier - that opens other countries to his perceptive excursions.