cover image Sydney


Jan Morris. Random House (NY), $22.5 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-394-55098-5

Elegantly written and charmingly impressionistic, this newest addition to the author's distinguished series of travel books ( Hong Kong ; Venice ) paints a vivid picture of Australia's largest city. Founded in 1788, when England sent its first shipload of convicts to Australia to atone for their crimes by settling the remote wilderness, Sydney in the 1990s is, Morris states, ``one of the great cities of the world,'' booming from its participation in Pacific Rim trade, blessed with a splendid climate and a spectacularly beautiful harbor. She captures the sardonic, earthy humor for which Sydneysiders are famous: the pupils who translate their school's motto (``I Hear, I See, I Learn'') into the mock-Latin ``Audio, Video, Disco,'' spoofing the city's famously hedonistic lifestyle; the infirm woman who, helped up from a bench, confides, ``It was a good lay, anyway.'' The author capably describes Sydney's social structure and memorably captures its architectural ambience. Yet she admits she found the city elusive, and she fails to provide the single crucial insight into Sydney's essence that would bring her slightly fuzzy portrait into focus. Not quite as wonderful as some of Morris's other titles, but great fun to read all the same. (Aug.)