The great travelers


Travels with my Briefcase was strongly recommended to me last fortnight, and I’m not disappointed. Also A Short Walk in the Kindukush, which I’m now reading, and I’m laughing every few passages. But I have to reconcile myself to this style of writing which, while it recounts enviable adventure, also looks derisively at the host—the native—for aspects in them to laugh at, jeer even. Humor is good, but these endless jabs at every character in the book? In Bangkok Biddlecombe probes the menu for varied crab poos and other Thai turds so he can bring laughter to his (certain) readers—his search for such gems is relentless, from beginning to end and in every location. Newby (I’ve reached page sixty) has no sympathy for a single native he has introduced so far, in Turkey or in Armenia.

After the laughter, a bad taste rises and lingers. I’m reading on, though: Newby’s book is a certified classic, my copy is a fiftieth anniversary edition, there are other things in the narrative that are admirable, and the prose, it has my attention in a vice-grip.