Thursday, May 14, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books: Offbeat Travel Books

The ideas for these two excellent books with Lost in the title are marvelous and original -- not an easy accomplishment in an age of exponentially proliferating travel books!

Daniel Kalder's brashly funny Lost Cosmonaut explores some (there are lots) of the obscure republics of Soviet Europe: Tatarstan, Kalmykia, Mari El, and Udmurtia. The surface of Kalder's narrative is "disrespectful" and politically incorrect, which some readers might dislike, but I feel that one level deeper he actually conveys an existential empathy with his destinations that is, as he aptly puts it, "anti-touristic":

The anti-tourist does not visit places that are in any way desirable...The anti-tourist seeks locked doors and demolished buildings...The anti-tourist travels at the wrong time of year...The anti-tourist is interested only in hidden histories, in delightful obscurities, in bad art...The anti-tourist values disorientation over enlightenment.

And of disorientation, Kalder provides a-plenty.

Riccardo Orizio's Lost White Tribes is also thoroughly disorienting, taking on as it does the rich subject of colonial "left behinds," stragglers of history who never returned to their homelands. We get pockets of Dutch in Sri Lanka and Namibia, ex-Southern Confederates in Brazil (where slavery was legal until 1888, 23 years after the War between the States ended), French in Guadeloupe, Germans in Jamaica, and Poles in Haiti. These remnants are themselves disoriented, probably permanently. Some have become inbred; they are largely poor; most pine for a "golden" past they can never know; their relations with both their countries of residence and of origin are tenuous at best.

POSTSCRIPT: I first published this little note in 2008. Both books have remained robustly alive in my memory. Daniel Kalder's follow-up volume Strange Telescopes is also excellent.

Lost Cosmonaut: Observations of an Anti-Tourist

Lost White Tribes: The End of Privilege and the Last Colonials in Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Brazil, Haiti, Namibia, and Guadeloupe

Strange Telescopes

1 comment:

  1. Yow...sorry, Patrick! I forgot to remind Patti about your entry, and she was similarly distracted.