Tiziano Terzani -War correspondent turned ‘Kamikaze for Peace’

This is a photo of a quote by the late writer, Tiziano Terzani, whose book The Fortune Teller Told Me, has made quite an impression on many who’ve known the Far East. I can’t quite make out all the words on the hoarding in the photo, but towards the end he says something about “reaffirming the way to silence, in order to feel oneself again, to reflect and find a bit of sanity once more.” Sounds like wisdom to me. There isn’t enough silence in this mad world. By the way, if anyone knows the exact translation of this quote and where it comes from, please let me know. In the meantime, I think I’d better send an e-mail in my terrible Italian to the TT site.

I was reminded of this photo at the weekend as I was browsing the net and found a blog called Cafe Selavy. On the site, a photography book called I Viaggi di Tiziano Terzani  (The Travels of Tiziano Terzani) was reviewed. It sounds/ looks amazing and is top of my library wish list, even if it is only published in Italian for now. Still, I can handle a bit of Italian, especially as a picture’s worth a thousand words and there are plenty to be found in I Viaggi. By the looks of things, this book should make the itchiest of feet even itchier as TT travelled a huge amount in the course of his life and now the photographer, James Whitlow Delano follows his tracks, of which there were many. Born a poor Florentine, TT ironically worked for the Italian typewriter manufacturer, Olivetti before turning to journalism and travelling throughout Asia as a foreign correspondent. He came to know the region intimately and lived there for most of his adult life. Everything I’ve read by or about him makes me feel internally enriched so now I’m getting curious. I want to see where the self-labelled ‘traveller’ went that I don’t already know about.

TT passed away in 2004 but not without a following and a terminal illness couldn’t prevent him from writing. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he wrote a book about coming to terms with his imminent end. Called Un altro giro di giostra, or One More Ride on the Merry-go-Round, this has yet to be published in English.

Today, I thought I’d google him. This is what appeared. It’s called Letters Against the War and is dedicated to TT’s American grandson, Novalis, ‘that he may choose peace’. I haven’t read it all yet, but I do think it’s interesting that no publisher in the USA or the UK wanted to touch it, even though Terzani offered it to them for free and yet it has been published in Italian, German, French, Spanish, Japanese and Slovenian. The only publisher who ran this book in English was based in India and now, 6 years later, I see you can order it online in English. Yet you can also download it for free from the TT website (see previous link) I am guessing that the reason for this might be so that we can read it, too, regardless of political feeling in the world. The copyright on the English download simply states that the treatise may not be modified or sold, but otherwise may be distributed as long as the copyright statement is included. It seems that Terzani really wanted this out there, especially in the warmongering territories of the USA and UK. This man who travelled the earth and witnessed so many war atrocities wanted us all to understand that war begets war and only love and forgiveness can stop it. It’s not a bad sentiment, in fact, it’s admirable. If only more people wrote like he did.  

 A while ago I wrote this review of A Fortune-Teller Told Me by Tiziano Terzani

A Fortune-Teller Told Me is a book that I’ve seen in the shops for some time, but always passed over in favour of something else. When I finally bought it and started to read, I wondered what had taken me so long to bring it home.

The author, Tiziano Terzani, visits a fortune-teller in Hong Kong in 1976. He warns Terzani not to fly in 1993, not even once, for if he does so, he runs the risk of dying. Terzani puts the premonition to the back of his mind for the next decade and a half, but as 1993 approaches, he returns to the question of travel. Should he take the risk? Or should he swear off flying for a whole twelve months?

In the end Terzani decides not to tempt fate and tells his employers at Der Spiegel that he won’t be rushing off anywhere by plane or other flying device for that entire year. This poses some difficulty as Terzani is a foreign correspondent and it’s his job to get to the site of newsworthy stories as quickly as possible. Still, Der Spiegel obviously wanted to keep their man because after a bit of cursory grumbling, they grant Terzani his wish. He can use alternative transport for the whole of 1993 and try to show a different side to breaking news, as viewed from terra firma.

Wherever Terzani travels during 1993 he consults a soothsayer or fortune teller and this book documents the likelihood of their predictions along with opinions on cultural influences on their given fortunes. It’s at times deeply personal, written from the perspective of a man who readily admits his successes and human failings. At other times he writes with wisdom about political influence. Throughout, he shows care and acceptance of both his adopted continent and its people.

By the time I turned the last page I admired the author to the point of sending him fan-mail. Determined to do just that, I googled him, only to find that Terzani had died of cancer aged 65 in 2004. I felt shock and then the fact that his death had such an effect also shocked me. How could this be? I so seldom want to write to an author, to tell them how their writing has touched me. The one time I decide I must, I’m too late.

Not long after I read The Fortune-Teller Told Me, Monsieur and I found ourselves in Rimini looking for lunch. We’d parked in Piazza Ferrari, where a muralled fence hid some restoration work from view. As we walked back to the car with our paper bags of panini, I noticed a section of mural where someone had painted a Terzani quote. I photographed it and smiled. Suddenly, he didn’t feel quite so far away.

And that would be the photo at the top of this blog…


10 Comments Add yours

  1. I have memed you. I’m sorry. I realize the inconvenience but it seemed to me we needed some European blood in the mix…


    Je suis desolee, confuse, decidement tres embetee… J’etais obligee!!!


  2. razzbuffnik says:

    “The Fortune-Teller Told Me”

    Sounds like a great book, who knows I may even read it.

    The best books I’ve ever read have come through recomendations. Thanks for mentioning it.

    It doesn’t surprise me that “Letters Against the War” couldn’t find a publisher in the USA. It’s so ironic that a country that prides itself on the right of free speech doesn’t seem to like people who speak their minds. Look what happened to the Dixie Chicks.


  3. Barbara says:

    This is the complete translation (more or less 😉

    ‘I thought this silence was a natural right which was taken away from us. I thought with horror, how much of this life goes by, trodden by the cacophony we have created with the illusion we would enjoy it or that it would keep us company. Everyone should reaffirm this right to silence, in order to hear oneself again, to reflect and find a bit of sanity once more’

    It was nice meeting you at the London Bloggers’ last night, keep up the good work 🙂


  4. epicurienne says:

    Barbara, thank you SO much for the translation. Great to meet you to and see you at the next one hopefully!


  5. Laura says:

    I cannot believe it: I had to read your blog to aknwoledge another Tiziano Terzani’s book came out !
    Thank you for that, as I live in London I will agitate everybody in Italy to find me that book !!!

    Ciao Laura


  6. epicurienne says:

    Laura – how wonderful! Another Terzani fan. I only wish they’d translate more of his books into English, especially the one about his coming to terms with cancer.


  7. Laura says:

    Hi Epicurienne, I’m a huge fun of the great journalist Tiziano Terzani. I’ve been reading his book since 1997 when by chance I found Asia. In ’97 he found out he had cancer and start his journey for his last book Un Altro Giro Di Giostra. That book changed life ! I was upset to hear about his death and sure that I was going to miss his books and lecture around the world.
    How knows, my English is not really good, I could attempt a translation – one thing that I often thought about not before asked for permition, of course. I’m on facebook and I have created a group about TT. Enjoy !


  8. epicurienne says:

    Hi Laura – thanks so much for letting me know about the TT group on Facebook. I’ll be joining you soon. Have you signed up for the TT newsletter, too? It’s in Italian, so good practice for me, but tells all about what his wife and former fans are doing to keep his memory alive and books in the bookshops. I just wish that his Un Altro Giro di Giostra was available in English. I wish you would translate it. I could always tidy up the English at this end!


  9. The Fortune Teller Told Me is in my top 10 of books read in my life. I have been traveling to SE Asia since 1985 and love it. I visit Vietnam twice a year for business and it is beautiful. I’ll have the opportunity to visit Cambodia in the next 12 months – can’t wait. I highly recommend, if you love travel and have a spiritual connection to life – read the book.


    1. epicurienne says:

      Hi Melodie, likewise, I agree. It’s one of those books that stays with you, long after you’ve read the last page. SE Asia is a wonderful part of the world. I wish I were there right now, with a bowl of fresh seafood noodles. Can you tell it’s almost lunchtime here?


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