Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Book Review: Wandering the Rainbow by David Jedeikin

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Holistic Ideas Press
Pages: 304

After striking out in a “committed” relationship, a friendship, and a not so exciting system’s engineering job, David Jedeidin decides to put a little distance between him and his problems. He embarks on a seven-month solo trek around the world. What unfolds is an array of sites and experiences that spans six continents. Traveling as a flashpacker – backpacking with creature comforts – Jedeikin writes about tourist sites, back-alley hangouts, and hooking up in gay nightclubs.

From Big Ben in London, to Table Top in Cape Town, to the ruins at Machu Picchu, Jedeikin’s travels detail everything human in a dozen different cultures. In addition to describing the sites and delving into local hangouts, this travel log gives a very real glimpse of the sometimes lonely, sometimes mind-expanding journey that a lone traveler must face.

The first thing that struck me about this book is the high quality of the writing. The prose is light and breezy, and carries the reader along effortlessly. The superb writing is how this travel log managed to keep my interest all the way to the last page.

As an example of his writing, check out this description of Cairo: “I stare out at the monstrous city, a liquid expanse of lights stretching to the horizon, and ponder the paradox: on the one hand, the cafes, street life, and urban chemistry make it one of the most exciting places on Earth – in many respects, it could be London, Paris or New York with a cultural and climatic twist. And yet…it’s hobbled, a great beast weakened by time and circumstance. Economically the country has been stagnant for decades. It feels as if Cairo is just lying in wait for Egypt to rise again, so it may once more take its place as one of the great centers of the world.”

Jedeikin did a nice balance of describing the sites and blending in his personal experience of dealing with people in foreign cultures. But what I found almost totally missing was the inner journey. Being away from friends and family, dealing with foreign tongues, laws and customs is hard-ass, lonely work. A person goes through radical changes, or should to my way of thinking. But there were only a few places in the book where the author opened up and talked about this inner journey, and how that affected his outlook on the problems he left behind. I was left wondering if the journey didn’t really change him, or if he chose to not discuss those changes with the reader.

Likewise, the author didn’t spend a of lot print giving insights into the local people, their outlook or issues in the world. It was as if he were more concerned about what sites he was seeing rather than the people around him. When he did talk about other people, many of them were Western backpackers like himself, which I didn’t find particularly interesting.

Having twice traveled similar around-the-world journeys myself, one for six months and one for eight, there were few destinations that the author mentions that I have not spent time in – Russia and South America – so I was able to get a pretty clear view of how deeply he delves into the culture at each location. My opinion is that although this book covers an extremely wide range of destinations, it only goes a few inches deep in any one of them. Of course, for Jedeikin to have gone into depth at each spot, the book would have been well over a thousand pages. So perhaps he hit a nice balance to keep the reader entertained.

My enjoyment of Wander The Rainbow is based on a simple and ancient premise: That the experience of other travelers is our best map to a strange land. Jedeikin’s stories will delight you, warn you, make you laugh, perhaps even shock you. He describes a spectrum of adventures that will deepen your understanding of different cultures and enrich your sense of what it means to be human. This is a book I can highly recommend to anyone who dreams of distant lands.

No comments: