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.