Travelling Companions

Antoni Jach

Travelling Companions
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Travelling Companions

Antoni Jach

Solitary travellers and a couple encounter Nina, an eloquent storyteller, on their travels through Spain, France and Italy. She entrances them all with her tales, which prompts her fellow travelling companions to share their own stories.

A handsome young man from Staten Island, who believes that life forms exist in other galaxies, vows to never work in an office again and travels by container ship to a commune in Italy. A lonely postal worker from Lodz takes home and reads the most interesting love letters, often becoming convinced a relationship needs his intervention, before delivering them the next day. A woman named Pauline calls herself Kim because her surname is Nowak. Depressed about turning forty, she mysteriously disappears from her own birthday party. Told by people on a journey, these are stories - rich with unexpected wisdoms - of lives in transit.

Travelling Companions is charming, amusing and philosophical - a wholly original exploration of what it means to honour our strangest dreams and disappointments. It is both a confrontation with, and a sweet diversion from, these, the darkest of times.

Review

My brother Luke says this thing: ‘It’s not the destination. It isn’t even the journey. It’s the company.’ Antoni Jach’s novel Travelling Companions, which presents a particularly untroubled dream-vision of pre- pandemic European travel, bears this out. While it is full of detail about the places visited (Barcelona – Paris – Venice – Pompeii), companionship is its real theme. Our nameless Australian narrator quickly bumps into the international cast of characters who will be travelling alongside and criss-crossing his own train journeys from Barcelona to Pompeii. Throughout the book, they are forever parting and making plans to meet again in various combinations in the next city, or the next, at such and such a landmark on such and such a date at such and such a time. Travelling Companions evokes the floating world of travel: chance meetings, easy flirting, happenstance friendships.

The book is set in 1999, a time before 9/11, which complicated international travel, and before COVID-19, which prevented international travel. It conjures a nostalgic world of journeying, in which delayed trains and loneliness are your greatest threats, not terrorism and pandemic.

Viewed from the clenched, chaotic terrain of our locked-down present, the physical and cultural landscape these pleasant companions travel through is a smooth one: charmed and literate, cultivated and calm. When not engaged in conversation with his companions, the narrator has his nose in The Decameron, Bocaccio’s 14th-century tale of the group of youths who escape the plague city of Florence and pass their time in the country telling stories to one another. When the narrator looks up from his book, he listens to Nina the Florentine entrance the company with her fables, while Europe slides past the train windows. This book is as diverting and evanescent as that.


Bernard Caleo is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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