Previously reviewed books and articles focusing on travel in Asia:
Everything is Broken – Emma Larkin – While hundreds of international aid workers were denied visas, Larkin entered Myanmar under a pseudonym and headed straight towards the delta regions devastated by 2008’s Cyclone Nargis. Many of the tragic scenes she witnessed would not reach Western ears for weeks or months – if at all. This supreme black-out of information by a desperate and blinded government – and the history of its inept regime – is explained in enough detail to present readers with a basic understanding of what went wrong before and after the natural disaster. She balances numbers and facts with first-hand accounts of flooded villages, missing persons, and the Burmese’ struggle to overcome these losses.
**Larkin is best known for her previous novel, Finding Orwell in Burma.**
No Touch Monkey!: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late – Ayun Halliday – Starting out as a fresh graduate Euro-Railing across Europe, Halliday is the typical first-time backpacker. Nervous, assured, confused, elated. As she travels through countries – and several significant others – Halliday finds herself in assorted mishaps and misadventures. At the beginning of the book, she is easy to relate to, bringing to mind my own first trips overseas. From a show-down with monkeys in India, to a dramatic performance festival in Romania, Halliday retains her youthful candor and humor throughout. However, her rambling writing style wears by the end of the book. Halliday does not appear to learn from her own lessons, but remains that typical, American backpacker even in her later travels with her first child.
Bangkok 8– John Burdett– The stereotypes of Thailand – its sex industry, cross-ethnic match-making and lurid underworld – are elements of the country that trouble every traveler. Do we embrace, accept or abhor? When the murder of a U.S. Marine inadvertently leads to the death of Sonchai’s police partner, his search for vengeance will lead him to question the blend and clash of Western and Eastern influences ruling the city. Sonchai, a detective with the training of a Buddhist monk, explores backstreets and conundrums, eventually connecting his spirituality to a new understanding of the red light culture. Bangkok is a thousand things, and only a resident, like Burdett, could attempt to capture the sounds, colors and complexities that characterize it.
Little Princes– Conor Grennan– Conor Grennan is frank. He confesses, within the first pages, that his round-the-world-trip plus volunteer-stint-in-Nepal was planned as a feel-good future pickup line. But then he meets the orphans at Little Princes. And Grennan – a 20something American with no prior experience in childcare or global development- discovers that he is more than just a foreign helper in an orphanage for trafficked children. Grennan’s initial experience turns into a three-year effort to reconnect children with their families. Open and eager, Grennan never admits to anything but a surprising love for the kids in his charge. During dangerous treks into rebel-controlled regions, and unexpected moments of contentment, Grennan keeps his tone refreshingly witty and straightforward. A portion of all book sales goes to his organization, Next Generation Nepal, which continues to work with trafficked kids.
Life of Pie– Yann Martel– This is a story that will make you believe in God.” Expectations are set for a typical man-befriends-beast novel of heartwarming, and award-winning, proportion. But this is also a story that will besiege your expectations, wearing away at your preconceptions until the very book you read transforms from non-fiction to gospel truth. When the ship carrying Pi’s family and a zoological collection of animals sinks in the Pacific Ocean, the only survivors are Pi, an injured zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a 450-pound Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker. For over 200 days, humanity and the existence of a higher being are called into question. Is there a god? Can he see Pi and Richard on their tarpaulin-covered lifeboat, in the middle of the sea? Who hears Pi’s prayers for death, for food, for one more sunrise? What really happens remains unanswered even after the final paragraph is finished.
Mystic Fool– Andy Hill- Turning 28 on a beach in Thailand, Andy makes no pretense of knowing everything about the world. Instead, he desires a transformation, hoping his trek through Southeast Asia will inspire a change in his mindset and future. Drinking, popping pills and teaching English, Andy’s physical journey is half existential party, half deeply-curious cultural involvement. Though his words aren’t always well-polished (swearing, sex and alcoholism are discussed as frequently as the scenery), they are honest. And that’s why Andy’s restless haunt through Southeast Asia is so believable: his subtle transformation of spirit is one familiar to many young backpackers. Similar to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Andy’s book overwhelms the reader with historical, philosophical and spiritual discourse.