Speed reading - travel writing

In his illuminating book, CJ Schüler follows 2,500 kilometres of river, valleys and forest along the Baltic amber route. A refugee’s son, he is forced to confront his family’s personal history as he travels through Europe meditating on history, people and shifting borders. At journey’s end: “The Amber Route stretched behind me, like a string of beads across the continent.”  Refugees are spilling into Greece. The irony is not lost on Schüler that part of the old trade route is about to traversed by desperate people attempting to reach Germany.

It is hard to believe that Paul Theroux has been travel writing for over fifty years. In his latest work, he journeys to the heart of Mexico and beyond to understand the country he calls The Plain of Snakes. He visits the Mexican and US border towns, where the drug cartels hold sway and many desperate migrants meet their death, learns Spanish in Oaxaca and meets Subcomandante Marcos (from the Zapatistas) in Chiapas. Theroux has lost none of his grit, is an engaging raconteur and meticulously researches the subjects he tackles. 

Monisha Rajesh describes the seven-month, 45,000 mile journey, she made by train accompanied by her fiancé. Rajesh’s lively anecdotes are refreshing. A highlight is their guided/guarded tour of North Korea. She’s gloomy about Chinese repression in Tibet but enjoys being befriended by an ecstatic nun – grateful for India’s support of the Dalai Lama. In Zhujiajiao, Rajesh hears of the delicacy “Three Squeaks”. These are new-born mice: “No cooking. They alive. First squeak, you pick up with chopsticks. Second squeak, you dip in chilli. Third squeak, you put in the mouth.”

Originally published by The Tablet