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January 26, 2006



Moritz Thomsen's "The Saddest Pleasure" has always been one of my favorite books of travel writing, because it is by and for an adult traveller (okay, an old man writing for old men) not by a public-school brat, cf. Bruce Chatwin, writing for backpacking adolescents. "Travelling is the saddest of pleasures," Thomsen writes, quoting Paul Theroux and resonating with Claude Levi-Strauss' "Tristes Tropiques". That book (an anthropological memoir set among the tribes of Brazilian Amazonia) has one of the great opening sentences in travel literature: "I hate travelling and explorers." Levi-Strauss then proceeds to write the most eloquent book of travel and exploration ever written. "The Saddest Pleasure" is about Thomsen's leaving Ecuador and travelling to Brazil and the Amazon River, when he was a disillusioned but still clear-eyed 63-year-old. Interestingly, James Hamilton-Paterson's Whitbread-Prize-winning first novel "Gerontius", was based on the British composer Sir Edward Elgar's voyage to the Amazon River in 1923, when he was 66. The saddest pleasure, indeed.


Ha, ha (Bruce Chatwin). I'll look out both "The Saddest Pleasure" and "Tristes Tropiques".

Jack Kegley

Moritz Thompsen was my cousin, I knew him when he brought Ramon to San Francisco to meet his mother and see the world. He was a wonderful, interesting and troubled man. His father, Charlie Thompsen of Centenial Mills fame was a millionaire in the early 1900s when he married my great Aunt Dolly Blakeslee. Since Charlie was never much of a good father, they divorced and moved to a farm in California. When Charlie died, he had somewhat made up with Moritz but left him only 10,000 dollars and the rest of his 4 million dollar fortune to the Seattle Humane Society. Not many people knew him and I was only able to contact him after his move to Ecuador. I would love to hear from people who knew him better


I didn't want to read Torn's review of this book til I finished reading it, even if it's over a year and a half later. I'm sadly down to the last few pages.

I am amazed this book was written in the sixties. Everything rings true today and his wit/thoughts seem timeless. Very sad and poignant and funny. Also very heroic of him - almost crazy. But what a meaningful life. Sad to know about his later yrs, and amazing that you got a comment from his cousin! Will read his other books someday. But for now, on to light fiction :-)


The Saddest Pleasure was troubling but worth the slog. I read it first (probably a mistake) and was hoping -in vain I realized - that Moritz Thomsen would just "snap out of it!" Not only does he not "snap out of it," he carefully explains all the reasons why he is in this funk in this self-analysis while travelling through Brazil.

After this, I went to reading Living Poor, and one can see why this is a classic work on what it is like to go into the Peace Corps and try to help somebody...somewhere. It becomes more obvious why he was so morose in his later book. After all that trying, he could never actually crack into the world of the poor, help them somehow, and be successful in rejecting his father's utter materialism. As he says himself, he was truly what he so deeply disdained: a bourgeoisie. God knows he tried to break that mold.

Now in trying to dig into his writing a bit further (the middle books that have been published) I have been looking for The Farm on the River of Emeralds. It is out of print of course and, perhaps not surprisingly, something of a collector's item with a price that ranges from $30 to $280 on the used book market. Very interesting twist of events.

Yes, Moritz Thomsen is probably one of the best writers that almost nobody knows about. Lucky to find his books after all these years. It pays to check the reading lists of travel guides and follow through, as I did in this case.

Marc Covert

In response to Jack Kegley, I didn't know Moritz but I have gotten to know his niece, Rashani, and some other of Thomsen's relatives. It's stalled now but for a while there I was seriously gathering information for a biography on Moritz Thomsen. I'd be happy to get in touch with you if you'd give me some contact information.
marc covert
portland, OR

Jan Wiley

My grandmother was Marie (Dolly) Blakeslee, Moritz Thomsen's mother. That makes Moritz my uncle as he was my Mom's half brother - same mothers but different fathers. My mom was Anne Blakeslee Ritzau. My mom and Uncle Morrie were not real close but my grandmother loved and missed Morrie and was very proud of his writing. It was great to see the name Jack Kegley because his dad Tom Kegley regularly visited my grandmother Dolly who lived with us as I was growing up. So fascinating to have stumbled into this site! jan ritzau wiley

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Thanks for the recommendation. Also I think that I would like because it is like a biographical novel that it points out certain aspect of society.

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I gave it to break, first only two or three times in moments of depression I had to sneak liter of lukewarm stuff.

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Books that been written in the 60's is one of the best ever.

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