Destination: Guyana

No. 22: “When the Going was Good” by Evelyn Waugh


To mark our five-year anniversary, we’re counting down the top 30 travel books of all time, adding a new title each day this month.
Published: 1947
Territory covered: Ethiopia, Yemen, East Africa, Guyana and Brazil
In the first part of the 20th century, Evelyn Waugh was one of a handful of bright young writers who headed off into the wild world to propel the genre of travel writing forward. “We turned our backs on civilization,” Waugh wrote of himself, Peter Fleming and Robert Byron, whose early death Waugh mourned. “From 1928 to 1937,” he wrote, “I had no fixed home and no possessions which would not conveniently go on a porter’s barrow. I traveled continuously, in England and abroad.” Armed with trunkloads of wit, an eye for characters and the cocksure attitude of the imperialist he was, Waugh headed to Ethiopia, Yemen, East Africa, Guyana and Brazil. The result was several travel books that went out of print. But the author pulled long excerpts from them, which were reprinted in When the Going was Good. Each is essentially a short travel book itself, including one about the coronation of Haile Selassie and Waugh’s attempt to travel from Guyana to Brazil. It all has a carefree feeling, as Waugh himself admitted. “I never aspired to be a great traveler,” he wrote, “I was simply a young man, typical of my age; we traveled as a matter of course. I rejoice that I went when the going was good.”

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