By Le­vi­son Wood Hod­der & Stoughton,

The finest travel writ­ing of­ten re­veals an in­ner jour­ney that runs par­al­lel to the phys­i­cal. There are smat­ter­ings of it here, but Wood’s in­tro­spec­tion tends to­wards the pro­saic.

The Asian Age - - Books -

the coun­try be­yond the head­lines, though he is su­per­vised. He la­ments Mecca’s clo­sure to nonMus­lims, which he at­tributes to a “mis­placed sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity based on com­mu­nal pride”.

From there it’s a long hop, skip and a jump to Jordan, Is­rael, Pales­tine (“THERE IS NO PALES­TINE,” an en­raged set­tler shouts at him in He­bron), Syria and Le­banon, via a fam­ily Christ­mas re­union in Beth­le­hem.

The finest travel writ­ing of­ten re­veals an in­ner jour­ney that runs par­al­lel to the phys­i­cal. There are smat­ter­ings of it here, but Wood’s in­tro­spec­tion tends to­wards the pro­saic. Near the end of the book, while ru­mi­nat­ing on var­i­ous con­flicts, he con­cludes: “There are no good guys and bad guys, only peo­ple.” The emo­tional range is lim­ited. He is var­i­ously “some­what sur­prised”, “some­what taken aback”, “com­forted some­what” and much of the time “ex­cited”.

Some­times the book feels as though it was writ­ten too quickly and the lan­guage is hack­neyed. “This is a jour­ney through a land steeped in his­tory,” he writes at the out­set. Later he de­scribes him­self as “ad­dicted to life on the road”. For all that, though, he is suf­fi­ciently self- aware to un­der­stand that “I was lead­ing a very self­ish, ridicu­lous life” which most re­cently has cost him a girl­friend ( for a more lit­er­ary take on the ad­ven­turer’s age- old plight, see Syl­vain Tes­son’s mag­nif­i­cent Con­so­la­tions of the For­est). This, Wood promises him­self, will be his last big ex­pe­di­tion. Per­haps it will, but one sus­pects he will still pop up to en­ter­tain us on tele­vi­sion.

So there you have it. What Ara­bia lacks in limpid prose, cul­tural aware­ness and his­tor­i­cal in­sight, it makes up for in rol­lick­ing boys’ own ad­ven­ture.

By ar­range­ment with the Spec­ta­tor

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