Where I Fell to Earth
Peter Conrad left his native Tasmania at the age of twenty to discover the big world beyond the isolation of his birthplace. WHERE I FELL TO EARTH: A LIFE IN FOUR CITIES relates how Conrad could not settle on merely one home, but ended up with four. In Oxford, he became a teacher of English, and has remained there for twenty-two years. Conrad gives the impression, though, that he has only been able to continue his association with Oxford because he has found three other cities that stimulate him on completely different levels. For weekend retreats he travels to London, where he has a cottage that is almost impossible to find. Oxford and London constitute antiquity. They are also places where culture can be stifling at times. Conrad escapes to Lisbon for vacations and the sunny brightness of the passionate Portuguese. New York is Conrad’s fourth temporary home and--seemingly--the one that stimulates him the most.
Conrad is a keen observers, and his fluid prose style draws in the reader without any struggle. At times, though, Conrad seems to be far too detached for someone who has spent a good deal of time in any of these four places. His objectivity becomes a double-edged sword. Maybe Conrad really doesn’t belong in any one of these places for more than a short stint of time. Maybe that is the curse of being from far-off Tasmania. Nevertheless, he has a wonderful eye for observation and a true thirst for soaking up the distinctive qualities of these radically different cities.
In particular, Conrad revels in the craziness of New York, where he has a Greenwich Village apartment. He can get lost in New York, whereas, Oxford seems not to allow for that. Oxford is proud of staying the same. It does not wish to alter its tradition; New York prides itself on braking tradition. WHERE I FELL TO EARTH is a wonderful read as far as it goes; in the future, one hopes, there will be new installments of Conrad’s sojourns into the various worlds which he calls home.