Over at the LRB I penned a piece “Who are the women who join Daesh (Isis Isil)?”
“There isn’t much primary source material on the foreign women who have gone voluntarily to Syria and Iraq and chosen to live under the Islamic State, alongside the thousands of women Isis have kidnapped, beaten, raped, forced to convert and sold into sexual slavery. We know the places the volunteers have left but can only speculate as to why.”
For the Irish Times I was proud to celebrate the work of Dervla Murphy on International Women’s Day.
You can read the piece here on their website or the text is below.
IN PRAISE OF DERVLA MURPHY.
Dervla Murphy is synonymous with passion, pertinacity and peregrination. Also, bicycle wheels. As a very young woman I first read Murphy’s In Ethiopia With a Mule (1966) and credit it with dispelling the idea at 18 that if I was to travel alone as a woman, everyone would instantly want to kill me. Strange as it may sound: she put me in my body. I did travel alone and lived.
I have given her books to many people in my life, such that each Christmas the refrain from one Canadian relative was “You can get me another of that Dervla’s books”. See, she’s not just any random Dervla. She’s a very specific Dervla. I don’t think there’s many in Ireland that wouldn’t facially ignite or animate upon mention of her work because for forty years we have been fortunate to travel on the page with her.
Murphy, 83, more a roaming, recording Promethean witness than mere travel writer, collages history, politics, topography, place and people into the present moment of what she sees, hears, bikes, walks and experiences wherever she goes. Her prose has a practical, muscular texture redolent of her cross-continent physical traverse. All weather, every weather, whatever the weather, her transport is low tech. Donkey, (sometimes) gearless bike, local transport or her feet. She has had to contend with injuries and danger, but is indefatigable in the face of what presents. Her 20 books have taken readers to Afghanistan, Baltistan, the Balkans, Cameroon, Coorg, Cuba, Gaza, Iran, Kenya, Laos, Madagascar, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Siberia, Transylvania, Tibet, Zimbabwe and more.
The idea that generations of girls and young, middling and old women will yet discover and read her extensive body of work, become captivated and catapulted to adventure (whether imaginatively or physically) is most invigorating.
Another advantage to Murphy’s adventures is that if you’re disinclined to wet feet, heat exhaustion, fevers, altitude sickness, tick bites, dodging snakes, or all manner of inconvenience there’s no need to leave the couch. Murphy’s work also encourages readers to delve into deeper reading on a country’s history and discover its fiction and poetry. Big road taken by short woman for many long years gives way to endless reading boreens. At 83, she’s not stopping anytime soon.
Anakana Schofield is the author of Malarky, which won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and the 2013 Debut-Litzer Prize for Fiction in the United States and was a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.
I also love this video interview with Dervla: