Frater, Alexander 1937–

views updated

Frater, Alexander 1937–


Born January 3, 1937, in Port Vila, New Hebrides (now Republic of Vanuatu); immigrated to England; son of Alexander Smail (a doctor), and Lorna Rosie Frater; married, 1963; wife's name Marlis; children: Tania Elisabeth and Alexander John. Education: Attended Scotch College Melbourne, the University of Melbourne, the University of Durham, and the University of Perugia. Hobbies and other interests: Books, walking.


Home—London, England. Agent—David Godwin Associates, 55 Monmouth St., London WC2H 9DG, England.


Punch, London, England, assistant editor, 1963-66; New Yorker, contributing writer, 1964-68; Daily Telegraph magazine, London, England, staff writer, 1966-67; Radio Times, London, England, assistant editor, 1977-79; Observer, London, England, assistant magazine editor, 1979-84, deputy magazine editor, 1984-86, chief travel correspondent, 1986-98; BBC, television presenter for The Last African Flying Boat, 1990, Chasing India's Monsoon, 1991, and In the Footsteps of Buddha, 1993.


British Press Awards commendations, 1982, 1989, British Press Award, Travel Writer of the Year, 1990, 1991, 1992, Best Radio Feature Travelex Travel Writers' Awards, 2000, overall winner, Travelex Travel Writers' Awards, 2000.


Stopping-train Britain: A Railway Odyssey, photographs by Alain Le Garsmeur, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1983.

(Editor) Great Rivers of the World, photographs by Colin Jones, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1984.

Beyond the Blue Horizon: On the Track of Imperial Airways, Scribner (New York, NY) 1986.

Chasing the Monsoon: A Modern Pilgrimage through India, Holt (New York, NY), 1990.

Tales from the Torrid Zone: Travels in the Deep Tropics, Picador (London, England), 2004, Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.


Chasing the Monsoon: A Modern Pilgrimage through India, was adapted as a documentary for the BBC, Chasing India's Monsoon.


Alexander Frater, a former columnist for Observer magazine in London, England, has recorded a number of travel experiences in his nonfiction books. Two of his works have focused on a particular means of travel as well as the places visited. Stopping-train Britain: A Railway Odyssey describes the historical significance and modern-day pleasures of the small rail lines of England, Scotland, and Wales. In Beyond the Blue Horizon: On the Track of Imperial Airways, Frater records his attempt to retrace the traditional route that the upper-class passengers of Imperial Airways followed on the voyage from London to Brisbane, Australia, in the 1930s.

Frater's 1990 book, Chasing the Monsoon: A Modern Pilgrimage through India, follows the author as he pursues a childhood dream inherited from his father: to visit the wettest place on earth, Cherrapunji, India, during the height of the monsoon. Beginning in the spring of 1987, Frater followed the path of the annual storm system, which brings the heavy rains necessary for successful crops, as it tracked across the subcontinent, culminating in the arrival of the rain at Cherrapunji. Starting at the southern tip of India at Kovalam Beach, and traveling up through cities such as Cochin, Goa, Bombay, and Calcutta as the rains reached each of these places, Frater encountered the many traditions and beliefs held by Indians regarding the monsoon. He notes the passion with which people await and receive the rains; in Cochin, he watched a group of business people run out of their offices and dance in the first downpour of the season. Frater also presents the way in which both old and new practices are used to insure a beneficial monsoon. In a land where a weather meteorologist is looked to for scientific predictions of the monsoon's path, there are also beliefs in the power of traditional rites and superstitions to appease the raingods.

Throughout the trip, from its beginning in southern India to its dream-dispelling finale in politically unstable Cherrapunji, Frater observes both the people and the bureaucracy of modern India, weaving these experiences together with images of the land and its climate. Newsweek reviewer Malcolm Jones, Jr., praised Chasing the Monsoon, stating that "Frater's deftly engaging account finds greatness in a neglected theme—the profound relationship among people, culture and climate." "In this annual meteorological event," observed Robert Potts in Times Saturday Review, "Mr. Frater locates both a potent metaphor for the capricious (and almost surreal) nature of Indian life, while simultaneously depicting a phenomenon that affects every aspect of the country: social, cultural, religious, medical and economic." M.J. McAteer, writing in the Washington Post Book World, also praised Frater's book, describing it as "part travelogue, part pilgrimage and part reminiscence, both meteorological and metaphysical." New York Times Book Review contributor Raleigh Trevelyan found Chasing the Monsoon to be "a delightful, witty and unusual travel book, full of humorous perceptions about modern India and its inescapable links with the past."

Tales from the Torrid Zone: Travels in the Deep Tropics grew out of a trip that Frater took to the island of Tofua. He had written a number of fictional tales about the island during the 1960s, publishing them in the New Yorker, and so it had been rather a surprise to learn that the island actually existed, though ultimately it bore little or no resemblance to the fantasies borne of his imagination. The island features both a volcano and a deep, dark, tropical forest, both of which caused Frater to question his trip on occasion, but the resulting book combines adventure travelogue with memoir, as it leads to reminiscences of Frater's own tropical roots. Christopher Benfey, in a review for the New York Times Book Review Online, remarked that "Frater adopts a tropical profusion of language to match his teeming subject, writing with gusto." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised Frater's vivid writing and the choices he made regarding what experiences to share, remarking that the last story in the book, "how he brought a grand English bell to his grandfather's church on Paama, forms a fitting grace note to an outstanding memoir." Ananyo Bhattacharya, in a review for Geographical, dubbed the volume "a richly descriptive, genuinely warm narrative that successfully captures the idiosyncrasies and allure of Frater's beloved tropics."



Frater, Alexander, Chasing the Monsoon: A Modern Pilgrimage through India, Holt (New York, NY), 1990.

Frater, Alexander, Tales from the Torrid Zone: Travels in the Deep Tropics, Picador (London, England), 2004.


Geographical, July, 2004, Ananyo Bhattacharya, review of Tales from the Torrid Zone: Travels in the Deep Tropics, p. 85.

Newsweek, June 3, 1991, Malcolm Jones, Jr., review of Chasing the Monsoon: A Modern Pilgrimage through India, p. 61.

New York Times Book Review, April 21, 1991, Raleigh Trevelyan, review of Chasing the Monsoon, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly, January 29, 2007, review of Tales from the Torrid Zone, p. 58.

Times Saturday Review, December 29, 1990, Robert Potts, review of Chasing the Monsoon, p. 19.

Washington Post Book World, May 12, 1991, M.J. McAteer, review of Chasing the Monsoon, p. 6.


New York Times Book Review Online, (March 25, 2007), Christopher Benfey, review of Tales from the Torrid Zone.