Book Review – The White Umbrella: Carrying Pavlova from Peshawar to London


Somewhere there is an echo of RL Stevenson and his heavy patient Modestine. Brian Sewell, perhaps reinvented as Mr B for the purposes of the book, frantically saves a distressed donkey from the traffic chaos of Peshawar. The fact that he’s part of a documentary film crew doesn’t bother him at all: he blithely abandons the team on a whim, determined to

to save the donkey from a loaded life unworthy of such a young creature. Pavlova, as he baptizes her for her long legs, is barely out of her hood and no bigger than an Alsatian.

Mr. B hatches a plan to walk 20 miles a day and thus travel the distance from Peshawar to London, retracing in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, if he can. However, he is forced to revise the schedule when a pharmacist tells him that the delicate Pavlova cannot travel more than eight kilometers and that she is too frail to carry her luggage.

The result is a charming, old-fashioned story of a man with a recognizable British white canvas umbrella who somehow manages to get him and his donkey across various borders traveling in various types. transport. Of course, in the end, there is not a lot of walking to be done since Mr. B is lucky enough to find the right company. Pavlova and the Umbrella win the hearts of people, who generously connect them with vans and trucks going in the right direction or reserve them on trains. Although he meets an interesting group of drug dealers, porters and ambassadors, he has to wash a lot of dirty laundry. He also finds the perfect rug in Isfahan and a blue-tiled hammam that he plans to recreate in his home in London, when he finally reaches it. But how he does it is another story and the tiles never materialize.

Sewell’s book is a short story with delightfully original illustrations by Sally Ann Lasson. The white umbrella, despite its gentle idealism, is definitely not a children’s book because many references will not be familiar to the average child and also because some of the endings are not happy. Certainly Sewell is best known for his art criticism in England and for the 83-year-old this is new ground – however, his stated intention was to introduce children to the world around them.

The white umbrella is designed to appeal to an audience familiar with the Fortnum & Mason and Coutts baskets where the queen stops. Even the white umbrella by James Smith & Sons, which may not deserve as much attention as in the title since after a while it disappears, losing its pristine appeal. The book also has its context in a Brittany that is more equestrian than it is today, a place in which a young donkey can visit a plush supermarket by capsule lift and be encouraged to do so by the owner as his presence attracts children and allows better sales. For fans of Beverley Nichols and the gentle world of scholarly gypsies with quotes from Omar Khayyam and Shelley, however, contentment is in store.

The White Umbrella: Transporting Pavlova from Peshawar to London by Brian Sewell
Talking tree, Rs 299


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