Journaling and Journeying

Here’s my attempt to write a review of Mollie Molesworth’s A Ladakhi Diary for Amazon.  “Review” is obviously the wrong word, but I’m basically trying to tell interested parties a little more about the book, while also acknowledging my bias.


I should start by saying that Mollie Molesworth was my great aunt so clearly I’m predisposed to like this book.  I’m also behind the website devoted to her: www.molliemolesworth.com.

A Ladakhi Diary is a travel journal Mollie wrote and illustrated about a 1929 trip she made to Ladakh in the company of her uncle.  I’m familiar with the original document and the Trotamundas Press has done an excellent job with this facsimile version.  The generous dimensions of the book are the same as the original and the sparkling hues of her watercolours have also been faithfully reproduced.  The diary is literally a manuscript—that is, handwritten—and encountering Mollie’s words in her own writing lends a directness and intimacy to the reading experience.

The diary itself is charming and fascinating in equal measures.  As one would expect, the landscape and architecture, flora and fauna of Ladakh receive much attention, but Mollie’s more personal interests also shine through.  She pays especially close attention to Ladakh’s culture—to its costumes, dancing, music, and Buddhist pageantry.  Taking up a large portion of the diary, her extensive descriptions and depictions of the Hemis festival are particularly riveting.

Mollie herself is informative and wryly amusing.  She negotiates cultural differences with humour.  Consider her description of the chorten (or stupa) one of the characteristic architectural forms of Ladakh: ‘chortens contain “potted lamas” and other holy relics.  You must go round a chorten with the sun or you will be torn in pieces by ghouls & dragons.  Ladakhis, however are very polite, so we feel sure the local demons wouldn’t tear Britishers to bits, who sometimes take the shorter way.’

Some useful additions to the diary are also included in this edition.  While a map of Mollie’s route helps the reader to connect the various diary entries with the geography of Northern India, a glossary of terms explains some of her more obscure, but necessary vocabulary choices (gompa, idag, marg, Skushok, etc.).  As an addendum, there’s a selection of images from another (draft) version of the diary.  These provide valuable insights into Mollie’s working process and hint at the labour underlying her seemingly effortless artistry—at the way she systematically clarified and refined her poses and compositions.  Last but not least, a valuable introductory essay describes the artist’s upbringing, education, and the genesis of the diary.  It’s significant as the first overview of her life and career to have been published.

It will probably not be the last.

[Somewhat exasperated update: It is now a month since I wrote and submitted this to amazon, and the review has still not appeared on either amazon.com or amazon.co.uk.  Should I not have admitted that I am a biased reviewer?  If so, they are encouraging reviewers not to disclose such important information.  As a general policy, the company should inform the reviewer why they have chosen not to publish a piece, even if it’s just a boilerplate explanation.  This is a matter of both common courtesy and customer relations: I’ve been shopping at amazon for well over a decade.]