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In Search of King Solomon's Mines

By Tahir Shah
Non-fiction (I suspect a tad embellished)
Travel writing

Disclaimer: sophiawestern recommended this to me. We'll try to keep from turning into a closed shop around here.

I like travel writing. I love Bill Bryson (feel free to disagree - it's a personal-shared-experience thing). So "comic" plus "travel tales" should be a good match.

At first I felt like Shah was trying too hard, setting a lot of the journey up from a place of essentially no real goal - he's travelling around Ethiopia, not saving the planet, here - mostly because I've suffered this year from a subscription to Outside magazine, the most self-indulgent "I'll raft to Antartica while having sex and learning penguin calls if you'll only just payyy meee!" source of travel journalism. They paid Jon Krakauer, otherwise a good writer, for the first article about Into the Wild naïf Chris McCandless, if that's any indication...well, anyway, let's just say I'm kind of tired of Dudes With Lots of Money Just Doing It for the Butt-Pat.

Shah isn't that careless traveler, he's not there to ransack culture. He soon settles into what is really the core of the book, a relationship with a hapless taxi driver, translator, and extremely Christian (he carries a Bible around for the entirety of these journeys that, from the pictures, must weigh ca. 15 lbs.) Ethiopian guide named Samson. The book jacket touts these interactions, plus one with another necessary Land Rover driver as madly humorous, hilarious hijinks.

I didn't find it at all that way. While he's obviously a privileged outsider, and behaves so at points, Shah makes an effort to understand and really explore on both the geographical and human levels. He also describes everything wonderfully, quickly wiping those famine-and-uncivilized stereotypes from the picture. There's a reason for each action. For the plot synopsis just go here. Otherwise I recommend a read of the book!


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jan. 23rd, 2008 01:47 pm (UTC)
Actually by Sophiawestern (I orig. posted wrong)
Yay, I'm glad you liked it! :) Like I said, I would try In Search of the Bird Man of Peru next. His river guide is one of the vibrant characters from any of his books.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )