An autobiography obviously needs an interesting subject with an interesting story to tell; and we certainly have that here. A *good* autobiography how...moreAn autobiography obviously needs an interesting subject with an interesting story to tell; and we certainly have that here. A *good* autobiography however, must also know what to leave out. It is in this regard that the book suffers. While stories of band excesses and car crashes and millions lost, enthrall. Just as much of the book documents an office move. Or which particular people put up money for a particular business. While it may be of interest to historians, to the layreader it leads to an exhausting plod through the pages to the occassional gem.(less)
An odd, sometimes disturbing and frustrating memoir from a gentleman who spent 18 years in an airport terminal. The story jumps back and forth in time...moreAn odd, sometimes disturbing and frustrating memoir from a gentleman who spent 18 years in an airport terminal. The story jumps back and forth in time, scenes are repeated with new or differing details (sometimes with the caveat 'This did not happen'), and the text is interspersed with airport annoucements ('Passengers are reminded that...'). This creates a dream-like scape in which what we experience cannot be fully relied upon, and our possible destinations are of endless potential.
By contrast, Alfred Mehran is achingly deliberate; he can recount his actions in the terminal in the minutest detail. We experience his terminal as a jet-lagged passenger searching for our connection; he experiences the terminal with a fastiduous recollection as familiar as if it were a gaol cell.
The cultural cliche of an airport is that it is a place of potential; from it we can fly anywhere in the world. The plain truth however is that travellers arrive at an airport for travel to a particular, pre-determined destination, and that they need only establish their identity to get there. As pieces of "Sir, Alfred Mehran's" story are slowly unveiled and the reader invests themselves in hoping that the bureacratic mess that keeps him in limbo is unravelled, we discover also that his search is not so much for a path to a specific destination, but one to establish an identity.
Clearly damaged mentally, in establishing his identity he is then compelled to maintain it. (less)
In many respects, the Australian East Coast trail is the destination of the world's least ambitious, or laziest, English-speaking backpackers. Similar...moreIn many respects, the Australian East Coast trail is the destination of the world's least ambitious, or laziest, English-speaking backpackers. Similarly, the premise of this book is not especially ambitious: i.e., spend 4 weeks hanging out at 5 different Aussie coastal towns; and the writing can also be quite lazy: the box for every expected backpacker cliche is checked. However, as any traveller shouldering their bag and sharing rooms with strangers along Australia's East Coast will tell you, you don't get unhappy having your expectations met, and something needn't be original to be enjoyed.
There seem to be three kinds of travel books: aspirational (where the destination or method of travel is out of the reader's means or abilities), memorial (where the reader can re-live their own experiences through another's eyes) or avoidable (travel which the reader wishes to hear about, but doesn't want to experience for themselves). The Secret Life of Backpackers straddles the latter two classes, and if you fit in neither of them, perhaps you should look elsewhere.
Largely a collection of drunken and embellised tales of debauchery and sight-seeing, there are elements of greater interest: the changing nature of backpackers - and hostels - over the last decades, their economic importance to tourism-based economies and...well, that's about it. Mostly untouched upon is the backpackers' egalitarian nature: our protaganist, a 50yo baldie, is seemingly easily, repeatedly and entirely accepted into the group of largely teenagers and twentysomethings. Good luck with sidling up to a similar demographic at your local mall Mr Divola!
With it concentrating on a very particular subset of backpackers, in a very concentrated area of a very large country, you won't learn a lot about backpackers, but there's still enough here for an enjoyable, light read.(less)
I think regular marijuana users would love this book: an autobiographical account from a chronic user who gets the chicks, has unbelievable adventures...moreI think regular marijuana users would love this book: an autobiographical account from a chronic user who gets the chicks, has unbelievable adventures (in the very real sense of the world 'unbelievable') and travels the world smoking the strongest gear imaginable. As a non-user, I was most interested in the contrast between a (sterotypical, I know) lazy dope smoker with the enthusiastic globe-trotting outlined on the fly-leaf.
There isn't really much of a contrast, it transpires. The fly-leaf journeys occur as promised, but they're almost entirely haphazard and even occasionally accidental. The only section of the book that really grabbed my interest was one of the few planned trips, and also the only part that was more concerned with the country being travelled through (the high passes of Afghanistan in this case) than the author and how stoned he was.
Every story related is somewhat insane or ridiculous, with some of them all-too-suspiciously leading towards a joke/pun ending. While I'm not suggesting the contents are fabricated, it does impact on the book's believability and the trust you must place in the book's author. When it's an autobiography you're reading, trust in the author is paramount. Without the comraderie of a shared drug habit between us, I had no great connection with this work.(less)