That said, it has been an enjoyable read. It´s a love letter to a place where the writer has domiciliary rights, so to speak, and for this particular writer that must be something special, as Morris is mostly known as a travel writer. She has written much appreciated books about Venice, South Africa, Spain, Hong Kong, Sydney, Oman, and even one about Wales. She was there as a reporter in 1953 when Hillary and Tenzing reached the summit of Mount Everest, and there is of course a book about that as well. She has also written what is said to be a very good trilogy about the British Empire, which I have added to my reading list.
She has a very friendly, personal tone in this book, like you are there with her in her home, leafing through signed first editions in her extensive library. You can almost feel her touching your upper arm while saying this:
...while you’re here, put yours in the Trefan Morys visitors’ book, would you? It’s volume three, not because we have heaps of visitors, but because I like to have just a single signature on each page, so that later on, when I have the time and the energy, I can draw pictures all around it, or stick in relevant photographs, or generally grangerize it. Just your name, that’s all, large as you like. You’d be amazed how hard it is to make people sign their names big and bold, so as to make a proper page of it, and it’s almost as hard to prevent them adding some fulsome phrase of gratitude or commendation.
Turns out that Adams (Wikström was her maiden name) has roots in Swedish Lapland that goes back to at least the 16th Century, on both her mother´s and father´s side. Probably longer. Northern Sweden wasn´t colonized by Swedes until the 14th Century. Several countries claimed the right to tax the Sami, and colonization by so called birkarlar, traders that worked as middlemen in the Crown´s dealings with the Sami were among the first to move in. Adams has at least two of those among her ancestors. And a high-ranking soldier, buried in Gammelstad´s church (that´s old Luleå), who was one of the founding fathers of this town. Which is pretty impressive.
Morris also devotes many, many pages to her Welsh roots, the history of her house, and how important these things are to the Welsh (who keep their family tree under the bed, she says). It gives a person a kind of domiciliary right that goes far beyond legal rights, into layers of biology. These things are tricky to adress for all sorts of reasons, but I know there is something to it: on a visit to Prague 12 years ago, I experienced what it was like to see parts of your own face in strangers on the street. It hadn´t even occured to me before that that was a... thing. I told a woman who was in my history study group, and she said she had experienced that exact same thing in Karelia, when she had gone to search for her ancestors.
Most of us are immigrants; all of us, if you go far enough back in time, even the Welsh. Personally, I have rootlets, thin ones, all over the place, some of which I can only guess in which direction they go. To the lower classes in particular, lots of children were born out of wedlock or with obscure paternity. And modern people move all the time. What kind of point am I trying to make here? Perhaps that Morris´ book makes me reflect on these things, on how much it takes to get that genuine feeling of belonging, a sense of right to a place or a community. Morris has already had the gravestone made for herself and her wife, and if I caught Adams correctly, she also plans to be buried in Luleå, though she spends most of her time in Los Angeles and has lived there for more than 40 years.
I did write "herself and her wife" up there: another thing that makes Morris special is that she transitioned from male to female during the period 1964 - 1972, something she has also written about in a book titled "Conundrum". She is still married to the same lady that she married as a man in 1949 and has four children with. That is a book I´d be interested to read as well.
I can´t exactly recommend that you read "A Writer´s House in Wales (Directions)", unless you already know and love Jan Morris´ writings. I did enjoy it, I am going to read more of hers, but I don´t think it´s the best introduction to a writer. If a writer I loved had written something like this, or any person whose work I admire, I´d be all over it, looking for clues and influences. As a first taste of someone´s writing, it´s just... nice.