A Journey to Nowhere

Written by Euan Cameron (trans.) Jean-Paul Kaufmann
Review by Alan Fisk

While living in Montreal in 1969, the author had an affair with a blonde called Māra. She told him that her family had come from Courland. Where? Courland was part of Latvia and had once been an independent duchy. After the fall of the USSR, of which Latvia had been a part, Kauffmann travelled to Latvia to see Courland for himself, seeking the truth of its mysterious German-Balt-Slavic cultural mix.

This book is marketed as “Travel/History”, but it is a disappointment on both counts. Kauffmann gives us none of the interesting details that make a good travelogue. The history is sketchy, too. We never find out why Courland had a sense of identity separate from the rest of Latvia. Kauffmann is not an engaging guide, either. Everyone who helps him is disparaged, ridiculed, or sneered at.

The translation is shaky in one or two places (“Sous-lieutenant” is rendered as “Sub-lieutenant”, when for an Army officer it should be “Second Lieutenant”), and one map shows the capital of Finland as “Helskinki”. I had hoped for an introduction to a little-known land and history that might suggest ideas for historical novels. Journey to nowhere indeed. Not recommended.