The Way of the World
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The Way of the World

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4.23 of 5 stars 4.23  ·  rating details  ·  424 ratings  ·  57 reviews
In 1953, twenty-four-year old Nicolas Bouvier and his artist friend Thierry Vernet set out to make their way overland from their native Geneva to the Khyber Pass. They had a rattletrap Fiat and a little money, but above all they were equipped with the certainty that by hook or by crook they would reach their destination, and that there would be unanticipated adventures, cu...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published October 27th 2009 by NYRB Classics (first published 1963)
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Douglas Dalrymple
I hadn’t heard of Nicolas Bouvier before, but a preface by Patrick Leigh Fermor means something to me: it means that I will definitely buy the book. I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I found myself keeping a mental list of dear friends living in ignorance of their sore and pressing need for me to send them a copy of The Way of the World as a gift.

It’s 1953. Bouvier and the painter Thierry Vernet are driving a temperamental Fiat through the Balkans, across Turkey and Iran, to...more
Xandra
A few years back a friend asked me why I would want to waste my time and money wandering about the world. I babbled something about how I feel a growing need to experience this way of life, to experience the excitement of not knowing what town or country I'll be in tomorrow, to hold in my hands a one-way ticket to a destination still unknown to me. I doubt I made my reasons clear because she gave me an incredulous look probably thinking to herself: "Oh, you pitiful little dreamer, how can you be...more
Cody
Successful travel writing, as far as I’m concerned, is an exercise in the craft of writing, observation, a bit of adventure, and a willingness to open up, learn, absorb, dig in, and be at least somewhat changed (don't overdo it, though, as the whole "travel as life changing" idea is often petty and forced). The problem with a lot of travel writing is that the adventure—the physicality of the journey—far outweighs the quality of the writing and the knowledge, history, and understanding of the pla...more
Christopher
And why should two guys not be able to drive from Belgrade to Goa? With admirable audacity Nicolas and Thierry drive their rusted jalopy from one continent to the next. Somewhere I read that Hilter wanted to build an autobahn from Berlin to India along the the same basic path in order to outdo all the Alexander the Greats, Xerxes, Khans, and other figures to have swept across Anatolia, Persia and the Stans. These figures loom heavily, if not silently, in the narrative. Nicolas and Thierry observ...more
Kent
Fans of the genre would probably give this one another star. Personally, I prefer a few anecdotes in a history book to a little history in a book of anecdotes. Bouvier can't quite avoid those tedious ticks of travel writing: long lists of unrelated and insignifcant observations (a broken doll's head, an out-of tune accordion, the nub of an old man's amputated arm, the state logo on a carton of socialist cigarettes...) intended, I suppose, to give a sort of pointilliste portrait of the landscape;...more
Colleen Clark
A wonderful book - an account by 2 French-Swiss young men driving from Geneva to Afghanistan via Serbia, Greece, Turkey, and Iran in 1953. They were on the road for almost 2 years. Published in French as "L'Usage du Monde."
I was in Turkey myself as a Peace Corps English teacher, 1964-66, and although they spent only a few weeks driving across Anatolia, I found Bouvier's observations spot-on. Turkey has changed so much in the past 40 years that much is almost unrecognizable now, so I especially a...more
Jennifer
I am a "fast" reader, but I stretched reading this one out as long as I possibly could. Two young men heading East in a Fiat in the summer of 1953 through to 1955 from Belgrade to the Khyber Pass. The world they describe is beautiful, strange, and I suspect far gone. Bouvier is the best sort of travel writer - one you sees the differences but doesn't dwell or worry about them. He is never condescending, nor does he pity or romanticize. His delight and interest in other human beings jumps from th...more
Linny
This 1.5 year trip from Yugoslavia to Afghanistan takes place only 8 years after WWII a time of poverty when certainly few people were traveling to this area. The author is in his mid-20s, has daredevil youth on his side but has sophisticated skills in perception, communication, and language. Beautifully written, a well balanced mix of historical and cultural material with crazy personal adventures of the author and his artist friend - filled with characters, generous or dangerous, but always fa...more
René
What a time this was ! A world of tolerance, where people could travel without fearing being arrested for spying in Iran, without fearing being held hostage in Afghanistan... Un magnifique voyage, dans lequel on peut encore mieux se plonger si on a eu la chance de voyager un peu soi-même, afin de pouvoir sentir les odeurs et les sensations vécues par ce voyageur et son ami peintre, qui ont vécu ce qui serait aujourd'hui impossible. Magnifique !
Joseph Rice
Great travel book. This is what travel writing is all about. Adventure, cultural commentary, getting outside one's comfort zone. The portraits of Iran and Afghanistan in the early 1950s is fascinating, considering the fanaticism that took hold 30 years later.

The translation is lively and full of the author's enthusiasm for the topic.

Highly recommended.
Tommy
I sometimes like to mix in travel books or fiction about a region when I'm traveling, especially if on the road or train in foreign countries. This one looked to fit the bill. I found it merely okay. The writing is average and the insights nothing exceptional. The experiences are certainly ones anyone traveling through places outside of their norm or comfort zone can relate to experiencing. It was interesting to hear how things have changed over time, especially as Iran and Afghanistan are not p...more
Zachary Krug
I really enjoyed this book, though its certainly not for everyone.

It's a travel book in its most basic form--really little more than successive journal entries of the author as he and a friend, both from Switzerland, travel overland in a beat up fiat from Yugoslavia to India in 1953, in the course of a year travelling throughout places like Tabriz, Isfahan, Kabul and Quetta, while denying themselves every luxury, so the speak, except that of being slow.

It has its share of travel-book platitude...more
Knautiyal
I very much enjoyed this book.

It's the tale of two broke, twenty-something Swiss artists in the early 1950s who decide to drive their beat-up old Fiat (the third main character of the narrative) from Europe to the Khyber pass through Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. Though I can say that the traditions of Muslim hospitality that make the Middle East such a wonderful place to travel survive largely intact despite all the violence of the past fifty years, the book remains in many ways a...more
Wayne
The axiom, that the closer words get to capturing it, the more elusive life proves to be, finds full expression here. I can't help but feel Bouvier is having his life and writing it, too: diary revisions under the power of such talent is a cheat. Such wordsmithery can't be bought with all the gold in Fort Knox, yet is so layered and nuanced here that an inescapable chill enters the prose. I recall an old flame taking me to task for revising letters I wrote her on the grounds that she wasn't gett...more
Josh
3.5 to 4 stars. Solid travel writing. If Patrick Leigh Fermor writes the intro to your book, I'm assuming a halo effect (and was not disappointed)

Not quite in the same league as Fermor (which frankly probably leaves out most everyone) but some solid observations and wonderful turns of phrase.

"After a tiring day at the garage, this return of memories was heaven. Our journey rose and spiraled back on itself. It gave us a sign, we had only to follow. Terence, who was very sensitive to happiness, u...more
Newengland
This is the tale of two twenty-something pals from France riding around Asia in a "rattletrap Fiat." In fact, the Fiat is one of the star players. The thing is constantly breaking down or being defeated by the weather. Bouvier, an aspiring writer, and his friend Thierry, an aspiring artist, are both accomplished mechanics. But they cannot always fix the thing and they do not always have the parts, which leads to lots of negotiations with the locals.

This takes place in the 1950s (read: a long tim...more
DoctorM
A lovely little gem of travel writing. In 1953/54, a very young Nicolas Bouvier set off with a companion from Belgrade to the Khyber Pass in a rattletrap car, hoping to support themselves by a bit of journalism, a bit of portrait painting, and the occasional stand as tavern musicians. "The Way of the World" calls up a lost age when driving from Serbia through Turkey and Iran to Afghanistan was an Adventure rather than suicidal madness an age when the Central Asian parts of the dar al-Islam were...more
Adam
One of very few books I found difficult to finish which is odd considering I have such a strong interest in the countries which were described. The main problem I had with the book was the author's style. He seemed to be a bit too fond of his own voice and was often trying too hard to sound reflective and insightful. Overall this tone of voice made it feel a bit contrived. I felt that there was some kind of intellectual barrier between the author and all the people/experiences he encountered, so...more
Dan
It is without a doubt one of the finest travel narratives I have ever read. Bouvier and Vernet's immersion in the cultures and ways of life of the places they visit is total, and the narrative is overflowing with illuminating observations. It's more than just a pleasant read, though; it's relevant, in its reflections on the tumultuous history of Afghanistan, whose defiance towards conquest-seeking farangis is a thread that remains unbroken, even today. The ultimate goal of travel is the gaining...more
Colin
Bouvier perfectly navigates the historical trend to approach a journey through Central Asia with orientalist wonder, by casting a fine net of observation, craft, personality, and humility. This book is no less equal to Kerouac's "On the Road." I believe that Bouvier's journey accomplishes more, especially considering the technical challenges (linguistic, political, $$$) whose context he moved through. A detailed read of this book reveals that is possible to engage in Slow Travel in the Age of th...more
Judy
This story read like it was written by a Frenchman and I found that it really stalled towards the end. I did not bond or relate to the author, but he took me through another time. A time when women lived inside the walls of their houses (even western ones) not working and rarely visible outside the home, when the poor hunted ample supplies of wild animals, wild lions lived in Iran, people wandered the continents, unrooted by the war and looking for new beginnings, when roads and electricity did...more
Kathleen
This is the journal of a trip taken by two Swiss young men through a number of countries in the early '50's, including primarily Iran and Afghanistan.

They live for long periods in large villages and small cities, just as the natives do, and suffer illnesses, freezing cold, sweltering heat, and many car break downs. They also meet a large number of fascinating people, as they try to earn their living through their painting and writing.

Very entertaining, especially descriptions of Afghanistan at t...more
Joseph
An interesting travel book with observant descriptions of the places, people, cultures, and diverse weltanschauungs encountered by two adventurous men traveling in eastern Europe and middle east.

A highlight is the description of personnel types and their duties and privileges associated with trucks crossing the Hindu Kush. There is the owner (Allah), the driver (Motar-Sahib), the second in command of the truck (Mesteri), and the cleaner (Kilinar). A more hierarchical profession one can not imagi...more
Robin J
A pair of resourceful and curious Swiss men decide to travel eastward in their little car--through the Balkans, through Greece, right on over to Iran, down to Quetta in Pakistan and over to Kabul. All this happens in the 1950s and all is endlessly fascinating. Their openness to the cultures they experience allows them to present the reader with a brilliant and sympathetic portrait of life outside the west.
Margo
Really good travel story
Ian Billick
It's an odd book. It's hard to know how much of my reaction is based upon the fact that I'm reading it in the summer when I'm distracted. It has neither a compelling narrative nor an engaging set of characters. I'm often quite taken by individual passages, which can be striking and beautiful, but the book itself doesn't really come together. I think it is one of those books that if you read it at the right time and place, when you are ready for it, it could be amazing. But if not, it can be real...more
Mohamed Hammideche
Un récit hors du temps -hors de notre temps- qui frappe par les changements qui ont touché "notre" monde, au point où le périple de deux amis en Fiat à travers l'Asie semble d'un anachronisme enchanteur. Une écriture dont la justesse éblouit quand elle sonde l'âme des peuples et des gens.
Trop peu évoquée dans les "reviews" Les parallèles entre le voyage du narrateur et son voyage intérieur. Surtout le passage des fouilles en Afghanistan...
Michael Andreen
Stunningly detailed account of overland travel from Bucharest to India via Istanbul and Persia. The details are those of landscape but of the inner landscape, too, of these two feckless travelers but of the many people they meet. The ear is pitched to hear the long withheld, brief laments of people stuck, lost, or predatory. The lament of travel is here, too, and the epiphanies which are the grace of the road's hardship, and Bouvier is graced.
David
An epic journey through foreign lands that sees our protagonists moving very much at a local's pace, with a car that does its bit to help Nicolas and Thierry take their time. Some stunning passages of prose and a lot of pictures shed light on a part of the world I know little about, much of which must have changed during the intervening 60 years, but plenty of which you imagine is probably not too different at all.

Jay
A bad description of this book would be that it's a sort of french "On The Road", in wilder locales. Despite an inability to peg it, it was truly an unexpected pleasure reading this little-known book. Like most works of journaling and memoir, it required a different pacing, and different expectations than a novel might. Expansive, and tender in it's youthfulness, the book left me pleasantly wistful.
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NYRB Classics: The Way of the World, by Nicolas Bouvier 1 4 Oct 30, 2013 10:11PM  
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Nicolas Bouvier (1929-1998) was a Swiss writer and photographer.

His travels all over the world incited him to recount his experiences and adventures. His work is marked by a commitment to report what he sees and feels, shorn of any pretence of omniscience, leading often to an intimacy bordering on the mystical. His journey from Geneva to Japan was in many ways prescient of the great eastward wave...more
More about Nicolas Bouvier...
The Japanese Chronicles Poisson Scorpion Le vide et le plein Journal d'aran et autres lieux Oeuvres

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“Traveling outgrows its motives. It soon proves sufficient in itself. You think you are making a trip, but soon it is making you - or unmaking you.” 34 likes
“That day, I really believed that I had grasped something and that henceforth my life would be changed. But insights cannot be held for ever. Like water, the world ripples across you and for a while you take on its colours. Then it recedes, and leaves you face to face with the void you carry inside yourself, confronting that central inadequacy of soul which you must learn to rub shoulders with and to combat, and which, paradoxically, may be our surest impetus.” 8 likes
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