Monday, March 12, 2012

The Lunatic Express

Things have been busy lately as I've been working to get a new campaign underway and haven't been spending much time in blogland...  I hope all is well with everyone.

 Carl Hoffman, The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World . . . via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes (Random House Digital, 2010)

 

Seeing the title was all it took.  I had to read this book.  Hoffman spent half a year on some of the most dangerous modes of transportation in the world.  He travels by air on a Cuban and an Afghanistan Airline; on buses in the United States, across the Andes in South America and in Afghanistan (where he suggests buses are safer than flying); on trains across Africa, India, China, Mongolia and Russia; and ferries in Indonesia and Bangladesh.  He makes it around the world without a major hitch until 4 in the morning on his last day as he’s heading back to Washington (taking the bus from LA) and the bus breaks down.  After his ex refuses to come pick him up, he calls a cab to take him home. 

 Not only is Hoffman’s mode of travel dangerous, he is often traveling in dangerous places.  There are drug warlords in South America, rioting in Africa and then there’s Afghanistan.  However, Hoffman experiences gracious hospitality almost everywhere he goes.  And his fellow traveling companions, who welcome him, also watch out for him.  On a bus in India, Hoffman confesses that he was “as usual, in a cocoon of generosity and watching eyes.” (150) The slowness of much of this travel gives Hoffman time to reflect (and question) people’s friendship.  Certainly, he realizes, some see him as a business opportunity, but most often the friendship is genuine.  Hoffman also spends time in his head (which makes on paper) reflecting on if it is truly possible for him to befriend those he travels with, for our worlds are completely different.  He even feels envy for many who are poor, but know where they belong and are a part of a family.  Hoffman is somewhat estranged to his own family.  He feels guilty traveling and leaving his kids and wonders if he shouldn’t settle down, but realizes that “escape is such a part of his life.” (133)  Early in his travels, when in South America, his daughter joins him for a most discomforting bus ride. 

As Hoffman begins a new chapter on a new leg of travel, he provides a newsletter clipping as proof of the danger.  We learn, for example that over 20,000 people have been killed Mumbai commuter trains over the past five years.  These clippings don’t really fit into the story, but are provided as a background, to show that danger does exist.  On a number of occasions, Hoffman notes that this type of travel for most people in the world is normal everyday business.

Hoffman often seems to get locked into his head.  He worries about his family back home and if he is being too selfish.  He ponders how he relates to those with whom he’s traveling.  He realizes the world is too big and he’s too curious and that he will only be able to get a glimpse of it (but more of a glimpse than most of us).  He thinks about a woman he met in India.  A lot of the “head stuff” distracts from the travel experiences.  Another thing that seemed annoying is that ways Hoffman remained connected, always toting an international cell phone that allows him to text and call home (or India).  Such connects reminds us that he isn’t as isolated as he’d like us to think he is. 

In my opinion this is a good book and I’m glad I read it, but it is not a great book.   I read the book on an e-reader.


17 comments:

  1. I wonder if the opinion has anything to do with the e-reader. It has to matter regardless how one tried not to. I know the physical depth of the pages make a difference to me. If it's thick and heavy I expect far more from it. And if it doesn't deliver it will become airborne far quicker than a slimmer volume.

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    1. I think you are right--I do enjoy reading books more than ebooks. I don't mind short ebooks as much as I do longer ones.

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  2. That sounds like quite an adventure he had. Somehow I'm not surprised the ex refused to come get him when the bus broke down. :)

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    1. I am not sure their relationship as he sounded hurt to learn she was seeing someone else while he had a fling in India.

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  3. I enjoyed this book when I read it a year ago or so. The most important thing that I took from this book is that Carl and I are not alike when it comes to traveling. I abhor crowds and wouldn't be able to subject myself to them like he did in the course of his journies.

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    1. I agree about the crowds! But I would have like to do some ferry travel in Indonesia

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  4. Egads, he likes to play fast and loose with is life it appears.

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    1. at the end of the book is a "risk analysis--risky yes, but not overly risky. It is amazing how people will, when your traveling their way, accept you into a group and watch out for you--I even found that to be true this past summer

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  5. I shudder at the thought of third world travel. I did it once in Jordan, and that was enough. Suffice it to say, I was glad to see the hotel bar when I got back to Amman.

    Cheers.

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    1. I think it depends on where and what form--I didn't mind hard class trains for short trips--I don't know how I would deal with places like the cities of India.

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  6. All of that internal dialogue: it sounds like some of my own journals, though I probably wouldn't publish it.

    The more I think about it, the more is sounds like an early travel journal. Something you may have to go through to get to a better place.

    I don't blame him for doing it and even for writing it, but might blame myself for reading it.

    Glad you read it for us.

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  7. *Shrug* I like your journey as a touch more honest and less escapist. As for my own all those years ago, I didn't know what I was doing or where I was going only that I would get there.I knew that there was enough on this continent to be curious over that I never needed to get lost on another.

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  8. I love the cover. It reminds me of a train I once took in Sri Lanka...

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  9. Sage: A very interesting take on life. I personally couldn't travel like this man does. "But to each their own". Thanks for sharing!

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  10. why do I get the feeling you'd like to replicate his travels?

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  11. I can only guess that it makes your feet itch...and thoughts of another adventure could be brewing..... Enjoy this St. Patrick's Day of all things green....!

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