Book Review: Shreya Sen-Handley’s memoir ‘Handle With Care: Travels With My Family’ celebrates the simple pleasures of life

Handle With Care: Travels With My Family (To Say Nothing of the Dog) is a delightful, fun-filled travel memoir that celebrates the simple joys of travelling, seeking out new experiences and living out one’s dreams in the most unostentatious and inexpensive manner possible. The writer Shreya Sen-Handley takes readers on a most unique trip to different parts of the world, where literature meets reality and the serious and the absurd alternate to create an exciting and often hilarious experience.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is how the author’s love of literature often dictates, either consciously or subconsciously, her choice of destination. She herself admits: “Our adventures, the ones by design and not stumbled into accidentally, have often been literary. These seemingly staid outings have led us off the beaten tract, opening us up to new experiences….” The book takes the reader to various interesting sites in literature, including the original Baskerville Hall, built in 1839, where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a frequent visitor. Although it was there that Conan Doyle first heard of the local legend of the curse that inspired his The Hound of the Baskervilles, he set his story in Devon—far away from Hay-on-Wye in Wales, near where the Hall is located—in order to protect the privacy of his hosts. Besides, Devon also has the dark and sinister moors of Dartmoor so necessary to the story. Naturally, Shreya Sen-Handley and her merry and intrepid family did not leave Dartmoor out from their itinerary. The other interesting places spoken about in the book include James Herriot’s Yorkshire, immortalised in books such as All Creatures Great and Small; the rocky beaches of Cornwall with their secret coves and low-wheeling seabirds, which were “the perfect locale” for Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn; Thomas Hardy’s Dorset; Gerald Durrell’s Corfu; the north Yorkshire moors of the Bronte sisters; and numerous other sites made famous in literature. With her easy and elegant style of writing and her infectious enthusiasm and energy, Shreya Sen-Handley has managed to bring these places alive for readers.

However, the book is much more than just a literary travelogue. The author is a passionate traveller who takes in the bigger attractions of a place without losing sight of the local colour, customs and cuisine. Food plays an important role in the enjoyment of travel, and Shreya Sen-Handley’s book is a gourmet’s delight. Almost casually in the course of her narrative she provides crucial information about local dishes. Be it stifado (“a gorgeous Greek lamb stew”) with savatiano in Corfu; or the “flavoursome pastrami, fluffy matzo balls and hearty latkes” in Katz in New York; or the enormous seafood dinners in Digha (West Bengal) and Puri (Odisha); or the French loaf, the thick slices of ham and the large bag of freshly picked cherries from the medieval market hall in Ross-on-Wye in Wales; or the “working man’s cider” at the haunted Queen’s Head, the oldest pub in Sheffield; or the “massive chocolate slabs of wooziness” at Baba’s, the “best little hash house in Amsterdam”, the author tries everything and never backs out of any experience, and that is what makes the book a pleasure to read. “You learn to weather the storms, and while you’re about it, have tons of fun. And food,” she writes, and the book clearly shows that the author practises what she preaches.

Shreya Sen-Handley is funny, at times poignant, at times wise and has a highly refined sense of the absurd. She paints pictures of places with her own unique colours and perception, but at the same time she never loses sight of the historical perspective. The book also talks of little-known nooks and corners of the world, with their fascinating stories and histories.

What is most beautiful about Handle with Care is that it is not just a little book about travelling; it is a celebration of the simple pleasures of life. “We don’t stretch our pockets, or even ourselves sometimes, except in the most gentle, pleasurable, inconspicuous way. But out of that maelstrom that make up our holidays, emerge the unexpected and the marvellous,” writes Shreya Sen-Handley.

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