Michael Jacobs’s grandfather, Bethel Jacobs, worked as a civil engineer in South America during the early years of the twentieth century, and left a paper trail of letters behind him. So following in his pioneer footsteps or railway-tracks seems a good excuse for a travel book. In fact he sounds rather a dullard, with distinct overtones of Pooter about him. Fortunately his grandson is a far more charming companion, endearingly anxious about volcanoes and revolutions and hygiene, but still outgoing and interested in everything around him, and his travels up the bony spine of Chile and into the vast, eerie altiplano of Bolivia make for a most enjoyable armchair journey.
One is far more tantalised in the early pages of the book by the figure of the author’s granny, Sophie Solomons, who lived for a time in Paris and had a pass made at her by James Joyce. Unfortunately Sophie stayed at home while Bethel travelled up and