Better Than Fiction 2.
Ed. by Don George and Samantha Forge.
Nov. 2015. 320p. Lonely Planet, paper, $15.99
Better Than Fiction 2 hosts an array of personal stories of travel from well-known fiction
authors, from South America, Europe, the
Middle East, and Asia. The stories range from
ones of danger, the subjects narrowly evading disaster (speeding taxis, strange illnesses,
cultural impasses), to those of awe and inspiration, the subjects finding unexpected beauty
and rapture in exotic or mundane places (
overcoming xenophobia, appreciating what one
already has). A celebration of travel if there
ever was one, with a collective writerly bent
that seems to make every observation all the
more lovely. Many authors candidly include
where they were in their careers at their time of
travel: just beginning, in a writer’s block, or careening into popularity—aspiring writers and
literary types will love this aspect, in particular.
Though some of the stories feel less sculpted,
like an e-mail just shot off to a good friend, the
standout contributions from Dave Eggers, Lily
King, Jane Smiley, M. J. Hyland, Lloyd Jones,
and Marina Lewycka, among many others, are
simply delightful. —Sarah Grant
Black Dragon River: A Journey down
the Amur River at the Borderlands of
By Dominic Ziegler.
Nov. 2015. 368p. Penguin, $27.95 (9781594203671).
Few Westerners have heard of the Amur
River, known to Chinese as the Black Dragon
River. Most have trouble locating it on the
map, but its watercourse has played a critical
role in both ancient and modern worlds. From
its Mongolian shores, Genghis Khan rode out
to challenge and conquer swaths of the Eurasian landmass. The Amur played a critical role
in Russia’s eastward expansion into its Siberian
territories. Much as the Rio Grande delimits
Mexico from the U.S., the Amur today approximates the border between Russia and China,
with similar tensions. Traveling via horse, jeep,
and the Trans-Siberian Railway, Ziegler follows
the Amur’s course, from its Mongolian sources
to its North Pacific mouth at the Strait of Tartary. Inhabitants of Russian river ports Ziegler
visits reflect frontier grit, along with concern
for their country’s future and unease with their
powerful neighbor to the south. Armchair
travelers and students of both contemporary
Russia and China will find perceptive and sobering insights here. —Mark Knoblauch
Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream
in a New Northwest Passage.
By Kathleen Winter.
Oct. 2015. 272p. Counterpoint, $27 (9781619025677).
Eager for an adventure, Winter signs on to
be writer-in-residence on a two-week journey
through the Northwest Passage. Surrounded
by fellow passengers on their own voyages
of discovery, she watches the bird-watchers
compare gear and life lists, the geologists hunt
down rock samples, a songwriter share the
pain of losing his father, and
all manner of tourists take
in stunning vistas and expe-
rience shock and awe over
an approaching polar bear.
Winter considers how the
long arc of history has affect-
ed the north’s native peoples
and wonders about her own
responsibility as a visitor when it comes to
their current social and economic lives. She
is also transfixed by the tragic story of British
explorer John Franklin, who died with all his
men while seeking a northwest passage that
is now opening up due to climate change.
Perceptive and thoughtful, Winter’s rumina-
tions on Arctic life and its continuous clashes
with modern civilization are compelling and
thought-provoking. The north is a place rarely
visited and little understood, but it looms ever
larger in our collective future, and to ignore it
and its people would be an act of global ar-
rogance. —Colleen Mondor
By Paul Theroux.
Oct. 2015. 448p. Houghton, $29.95 (9780544323520). 975.
The idea that Theroux is one of the preeminent travel writers today needs neither proof
nor explanation at this point in his distinguished career, but just in case some doubters
do exist out there and raise their voices in objection to such an accolade, his latest travel
memoir should quiet even
the strongest of reservations.
On several trips through the
American South, a place
Theroux admits he was
unfamiliar with and thus
knew little about, and as he
eschewed visits to major cities and tourist attractions,
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