Trailing Pythagorus

Description

200 pages
$7.95
ISBN 0-86495-016-0

Author

Publisher

Year

1982

Contributor

Reviewed by Louise H. Girard

Louise H. Girard was Head of Book Selection, University of St. Michael's College Library, Toronto.

Review

Trailing Pythagoras is the first book of a Montreal freelance writer whose literary/journalistic credits include, among others, regular contributions to Canadian Heritage.

As George Galt tells us in chapter three, his year-long trip to the Greek islands, like that of his great-great-grandfather about 150 years before him (1810), was undertaken as a form of quest: “I come, as he came, unsure of the future and questing after health” (p. 32). This quest motif is sustained throughout the book, first through Pythagoras whom, as indicated in the title, Galt is trailing through Greece, and secondly through the link mentioned above — namely, that of his great-great-grandfather, John Galt, an English Canadian writer who was born in England. The link with John Galt is particularly effective. George Galt not only makes use of it to provide “a perspective, a layer of history that might otherwise remain concealed” (pp. 32-33) but he also makes use of it as a lead into the historical background of the places he is visiting.

The historical information presented in travel memoirs is often boring, but in this book it is extremely well integrated not only in the text but within the quest. As the book progresses, the past of Greece comes to be seen as a very important part of its present and of its future and even as part of our present and our future. For example, at the end of his visit to Olympus, George Galt reflects that with the coming of electricity to the mountain the whole way of life will change:

Life will be easier, giving these people the comfort they deserve, and that is good, but I feel sad nonetheless here at the edge of this time zone, possibly the last foreigner to see Olimpos as it was first conceived. Lighting a kerosene lamp, I imagine myself the last traveller in old Greece, the last of a long line... all of whom came searching for and often found another look at life, a second chance, an inspiration or a dream. It’s sad to feel this line coming to an end, though of course, there is a new line of electronic travellers long since begun. They see differently, and sometimes wonderfully, but they will never see the unhurried, proud bearing of these self-reliant people who shape all thought and action from a slow, unwired mountain and break their daily darkness with the sun. (p. 176)

The degree to which this book is pervaded with a sense of the importance of the past makes it much more than the usual travel memoir. I have always wanted to go to Greece. Now I want to go even more because I feel that I will understand it better.

For those who are not particularly interested in history, this is still a very good book. One is introduced to a great number of colorful characters, one shares the many ups and downs of travelling on the cheap, and one comes to rest more than once in idyllic settings.

The major limitation of this book is that it could have been better edited. Some of the images (and, at times, the vocabulary) leave something to be desired. On the other hand, however, the author’s very personal style creates a bond of intimacy between him and his reader that one would not want to see reduced.

Citation

Galt, George, “Trailing Pythagorus,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38070.