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Book Reviews: Travel


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On Mexican Time by Tony CohanBook Cover of On Mexican Time by Tony Cohan

Read by Tracy in November 2008

Tracy recommends as a reality check on moving your life to another country

Tony Cohan uproots his family and moves from California to Mexico and becomes immersed in the Mexican culture. Adapting surprisingly quickly to a less stressful way of life. There are a plethora of travel books about people moving from one country to another and going outside their comfort zone. However, they don't tend to move to a country such as Mexico which doesn't get a good wrap these days.

The fact that Cohan is writer also helsp in writing a book and describing their new life in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Of course this book was written in the mid-1980's and you get the impression that it was a lot nicer then that what it appears now on the News. I was disconcerted with the fact that the Cohans were independently financed so did not have to find work as such and that does hold them aloof from the local inhabitants somewhat. Anyway anyone who wants to write a book about decamping to another country with a totally different lifestyle, good on them, it is something I am hoping to do in the future.

Tony Cohen has his own website that details his other books.

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Shantaram by Gregory David RobertsBook Cover of Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Read by Tracy 2008

Tracy does not recommend or if you must buy it, don't expect to be enlightened

I bought this book with so much optimism. It sounded perfectly up my street of books - loosely based on a real story about an Australian escaping to India. I just could not understand all the hype. Gregory David Roberts was a thug who could not accept he was caught and convicted of a crime that had serious repercussions on those he terrorised in robbing banks - yes that is multiple. The fact he was a heroin addict does not, for me anyway, vindicate his actions. Anyway he escapes from jail and ends up in Bombay (now Mumbai) and quickly becomes involved with the underworld there. I could not work out what was fantasy or real in the book as Roberts tends to paint himself as the saviour, even arranging a new medical clinic in the slum he resides in. On his arrival he meets Prabaker who renames Roberts as LinBaba (Lin). As LinBaba he knows everything which just becomes so tiresome, tedious and annoying. One word describes LinBaba - smug. The fact that he continued on the life he had in Australia except on a grander scale i.e. gun-running, counterfeiting and smugging is the hardest thing to accept. He had an opportunity to turn his life around and start to make amends for his stupidity, but alas continued to take the easy option.

From articles on the internet it would appear that the film has been shelved - thank goodness I say.

There is a Shantaram website.

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Shopping for Buddhas by Jeff GreenwoldBook Cover of Shopping for Buddhas by Jeff Greenwold

Read by Tracy in October 2008

Recommended for anyone thinking of visiting Nepal and doing some shopping

I found this book when I was online at Lonely Planet looking for a guidebook to Nepal and Kathmandu and with my keenness for shopping, thought it was fate. Greenwold writes in the form of a travel narrative and his search for "the" Buddha statue, not the usual book looking for traditional enlightenment. I was really able to connect with Greenwold as I read the book after I returned from my three months of trekking and loved his explanations about the markets (particularly the story of the Monks on the escalators in a shopping mall). I loved trawling through the markets and looking at the idolatry but always in the back of my mind was its authenticity. Alas I was not able to find the perfect Buddha statue and am still looking in other countries. This was an entertaining read nonetheless and it would have been good to read before travelling to understand the issues about relics being removed in increasing numbers due to the greed of unscrupulous antiquity dealers.

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Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia by Chris StewartBook Cover of Driving Over Lemons:  An Optimist in Adalucia by Chris Stewart

Read by Tracy in 2008

Tracy recommends as a total change from the usual move to France and Italy books

I love these kinds of books and always get the urge to move. Of course this time it is different and my partner and I are moving to Spain in 2011. I have gone back and reread Chris Stewart's book which I was totally captivated with last time and hasn't changed. Andalucia is described beautifully and so different to the usual books. Stewart buys the house and soon realises it is missing some of the usual things i.e. water. So he spends the next year getting it sorted out. Into the story comes Ada - his no nonsense straight talking wife, they soon learn to build friendships (way more important than most people realise) and have a baby. It wasn't hilarous, but it was a great read leaving me full of ideas and wishes.

Oh and a bit of gossip - Chris Stewart was the one-time drummer for genesis.

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Nine Lives by William DalrympleBook Cover of Nine Lives by William Dalrymple

Read by Tracy in 2008

Tracy recommends because it is a fantastic travel book that studies the lives of Indian people and their believes

As usual when I am travelling I try to read as many books to absorb myself into the culture and I have found the books that William Dalrymple writes are intricate and exquisitely descriptive of the cities and people in India. Dalrymple has managed to combined travel writing and history as he believes that the future of travel writing lies not in "the epic journeys, often by young men, conveying the raw intoxication of travel during a moment in life when time is endless, and deadlines and commitments are non-existent". Instead, it lies in the writings of "individuals who have made extended stays in places, getting to know them intimately". Dalrymple not only writes from the heart, but he also lives in India (just outside Delhi) which has enabled him to study those around him for lengthy periods - instead of just swanning through as some travel writers tend to do.

The book looks at nine people and their how their lives changed when they discovered different faiths. The book encompasses several characters from Prasannamati Mataji who goes from a wealthy family to becoming a Jain wandering the roads wholly reliant on charity to Lal Peri Mastani, a red fairy to Tashi Passange a Buddhist monk who escaped Tibet with the Dalai Lama. Dalrymple does not over-embelish the stories which makes them all the more poignant and having travelled through India for six months, they are totally believable and he puts his own views across and compares the spread of religion with different times in Europe except that in Nine Lives faith does have the ability to offer peace.

Read William Dalmrymple's website for more information and contact details.

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A Year in Provence by Peter MayleBook Cover of A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

Read by Tracy in 2008

Tracy recommends as an idealistic view of changing your life

Peter Mayle and his wife flee to the south of France where they purchase a 200 year old farmhouse and write on a monthly basis of how they adapt to the style of life in Provence. The book takes you through the issues with builders and fitting in with the villagers. The tone of the book is light and funny. Of course it helps that they seem to be rich and don't exactly struggle financially. This book won the 1989 British Book Award, Best Travel Book. Read the review of Peter Mayle's last book A Good Year.

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In a Sunburnt Country/Down Under by Bill BrysonBook Cover of In a Sunburnt Country/Down Under by Bill Bryson

Read by Natalie in 2007 and Tracy in 2008

Natalie and Tracy recommends this as a hilarious story about travelling in Australia

I was living in America when I read this, and spent a lot of time laughing so much I was crying. Bill Bryson's ability to travel and see the humour in every place he visits is amazing. He often nails it on the head with his descriptions and this book was no different. I particularly loved his decision to walk from Perth to Fremantle (30km) on a 42 degree day because "it didn't look that far on the map". I think this perfectly sums up how most foreigners view Australia - they just can't believe how big it is here! His fascination and fear of all the things that could kill him in Australia, never stopped him from getting out there, although his constant mention of all the deadly things in our country - the most in the world apparently, suggest it was at times with some reluctance. I recommend this book to anyone, Australian or not for a hilarious look at the land down under.

Check out the other reviews for Bill Bryson books Mother Tongue, At Home and A Walk in the Woods.

Bill Bryson has an official website where you can stay up to date with Bill's travels, writings. You can also view excerpts from his books, sign up for a newsletter and join him on Facebook.

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