"The Silent Traveller in Edinburgh" by Chiang Yee is a wonderful read. Edinburgh has been the subject of very many books, both fiction and non-fiction. But we think we're fairly safe in suggesting that you'll never have read anything quite like it about the city before. The nearest we can think of is Robert Louis Stevenson's classic "Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes", published in 1879. Both offer a combination of personal insight and factual background, but in many ways they are polar opposites. RLS's observations were written from the perspective of someone who knew the city intimately, and he was not afraid to express views that others found unwelcome. Chiang Yee, in contrast, was as much of an outsider as it's possible to imagine; and he took a consistently benign and gently humorous approach to his subject.
Chiang Yee was exiled from his native China and separated from his family at the age of 30 in 1933. From 1935 to 1938 he taught Chinese at the School of Oriental Studies in London. In 1937 he published "The Silent Traveller: a Chinese Artist in Lakeland" based on a fortnight he spent in the area the previous August. He went on to publish "Silent Traveller" books about London in 1938; War Time in 1939; The Yorkshire Dales in 1941; and Oxford (where by then he was living and working) in 1944. In August 1943 and again in May 1944 he visited Edinburgh, and the book that resulted, "The Silent Traveller in Edinburgh", was first published in 1948. Its publication in a new edition with a modern foreword is very much to be welcomed.
What you find between the covers is a fascinating book. It is largely an account of observations made and encounters experienced during the author's visits to Edinburgh. The reader is also presented with some poetry and some lovely examples of the author's drawings and paintings. What is particularly striking is that as a Chinese national (by this time China was an ally) Chiang Yee was subject to wartime restrictions that included reporting to the police on arrival in the city. Yet there is a strong sense that his presence in Edinburgh, a city that at the time had just one Chinese restaurant, was accepted without question by those he met.
Indeed, perhaps the most striking thing about this book for us was the way the Second World War touches on it so lightly. Yes, there were some restrictions on him; and yes, the long distance train services were not what they were before the war for civilian travellers; and yes, city tourists tended to comprise groups of men in American military uniform or young couples serving in the Royal Navy, but for the most part you could be forgiven for forgetting that the author's visits took place in wartime. Perhaps by the time this book was first published, in 1948, reminding its readers too forcibly of a recent past they'd probably prefer to forget didn't seem a good idea. Whatever the reason, prepare to see Edinburgh in a way you've never seen it before.