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

Handle With care: Traveling with my family (to say nothing of the dog) is a delightful and fun travelogue that celebrates the simple joys of travel, finding new experiences, and pursuing dreams in the least ostentatious and inexpensive way possible. Writer Shreya Sen-Handley takes readers on a most unique journey 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, consciously or unconsciously, dictates his choice of destination. She herself admits: “Our adventures, those on purpose and in which we did not fall by chance, were often literary. These seemingly formal outings took us off the beaten track, opening us up to new experiences…”. The book takes the reader to various interesting literary sites, including the original Baskerville Hall, built in 1839, where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a frequent visitor. Although it was here 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 – away from Hay-on-Wye in Wales, close to where the Hall is – in order to protect the privacy of his guests. On the other hand, Devon also has the dark and eerie moors of Dartmoor so necessary to the story. Naturally, Shreya Sen-Handley and her cheerful and fearless family didn’t leave Dartmoor off their itinerary. Other interesting places the book talks about include James Herriot’s Yorkshire, immortalized in books such as All creatures big and small; the rocky Cornish beaches with their secret coves and low-wheeling seabirds, which were “the perfect place” for Daphne du Maurier Jamaica hostel; Dorset by Thomas Hardy; Corfu by Gerald Durrell; the North Yorkshire moors of the Brontë sisters; and many other sites made famous by literature. With her simple and elegant writing style, her infectious enthusiasm and energy, Shreya Sen-Handley has managed to bring these places to life for readers.

However, the book is much more than just a literary travelogue. The author is an avid traveler who enjoys a place’s greatest attractions without losing sight of local color, customs and cuisine. Food plays an important role in the enjoyment of travel, and Shreya Sen-Handley’s book is a foodie’s delight. Almost casually during her story, she provides crucial information about local dishes. Whether it’s stifado (“a magnificent Greek lamb stew”) with savatiano in Corfu; or the “tasty pastrami, fluffy matzo balls and hearty latkes” at Katz in New York; or the huge seafood dinners in Digha (West Bengal) and Puri (Odisha); or the French bread, thick slices of ham and big sack of freshly picked cherries from the medieval market hall of Ross-on-Wye in Wales; or the ‘worker’s cider’ at the haunted Queen’s Head, Sheffield’s oldest pub; or the “huge chocolate slabs of madness” at Baba’s, “the best little hash house in Amsterdam”, the author tries everything and gives up no experience, and that’s what makes the book enjoyable to read. “You learn to weather the storms and while you’re at it, have a ton of fun. And food,” she writes, and the book makes it clear that the author practices what she preaches.

Shreya Sen-Handley is funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes wise and has a very refined sense of the absurd. She paints images of places with her own colors and her own perception, but at the same time she never loses sight of the historical perspective. The book also talks about little-known nooks and crannies of the world, with their fascinating stories and histories.

What is more beautiful Handle with Care it’s not just a little travel book; it’s a celebration of life’s simple pleasures. “We don’t stretch our pockets, or even sometimes ourselves, except in the sweetest, most pleasant and most discreet way. But from this maelstrom that makes up our holidays, emerge the unexpected and the marvelous”, writes Shreya Sen-Handley.

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