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Desert Places

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  295 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
In 1992 Robyn Davidson traveled through a year's migratory cycle with the Rabari, pastoral nomads of northwest India, whose grazing lands and trading and pilgrimage routes are quickly being destroyed by new political boundaries, atomic test sites, and irrigation. Sleeping among five thousand sheep and surviving on goat's milk, flatbread, and parasite-infested water in a la ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published November 1st 1997 by Penguin Books (first published 1996)
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Andrea Blythe
Jul 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Robyn Davidson has the tendency to envisage a romantic ideal trip, like journeying in the desert with the nomadic peoples of India, only to slam up hard against a solid brick wall of reality.

Davidson thought it would be as simple as contacting a group of Ribari (one tribe of India's nomadic people) and convincing them to let her join them on one of their sojourns. She quickly learns that its easy to dream the trip, but pulling it off was a fumbling, frustrating process of continued disappointme
...more
Max Carmichael
Mar 09, 2014 rated it did not like it
Australian lady thinks it would be cool to migrate with nomads of the Indian desert. So she spends months intruding on, sampling, and harassing impoverished villagers, thoughtlessly exposing them to increased exploitation by outsiders, in order to find just the right noble savages for her precious dream. She doesn't bother to learn the local languages because she views the desert as a menu of cultures from which she can pick just the right a la carte experience, and it would be wasted effort to ...more
Darlene
Jan 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Travel lovers
Recommended to Darlene by: Robyn Davidson
Whew! I am glad to be finished reading this book. Not that the writing was poor or that I hated the author. Quite the opposite. Having just finished Robyn Davidson's 'Tracks' about her trek across Australia, I wanted more. So when I saw this book was free with Kindle Unlimited I grabbed it. And as tortuous as the book was to read, I am glad I read it.

If someone were to ask me where I'd least like to go to visit, India would be at the top of the list. Too many people, too caste-set. But before yo
...more
Rosalie
Jan 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating memoir of traveling with nomads in Northern India. By the end, she writes, "How do you write about failure?" Her migration with the Rabari/Raika was riddled with obstacles and hardships, but the account is rich in detail about this fading way of life. Her main message is one of social justice, full of a simmering rage that life, both human and animal, is not protected equally across class/caste boundaries.
Ray Foy
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What distinguishes the travel writing of Robyn Davidson, for me, is her uncompromising insistence on describing the world in all its stark reality. She examines places, people, and events as she finds them, without bias or cultural judgment; also without romanticizing. In Desert Places, however, she admits to having a difficult time maintaining that credo.

Ms Davidson established herself as a traveler of note when, at the age of twenty-seven, she crossed the western Australian desert, alone, lead
...more
Baobab
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book without doing more than glancing at the title and the cover picture, always a dangerous way to choose a book. I assumed it would be something about desert ecology. The author apparently contracted with a magazine to produce an article about traveling with pastoral nomads on their seasonal trek through the desert in northern India. While most of the book takes place in the desert, the author doesn't say very much about it. She is focussed on the pastoralists, impoverished peopl ...more
Sally Edsall
May 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Ms Davidson is a tough woman, who for some reason sees the need to put herself into the most excrutiatingly isolating situations.

I found the book fascinating, and was overwhelmed at times by the sense of being so alone within a country where there is the most confronting closeness of human being with human being. This is an India I know i would not be equipped to deal with.

i was a bit critical of her at first that she always had her friend, the wealthy Indian upon whom to fall back, but I doubt
...more
Alix
Apr 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Davidson's travel writing is unlike the vast majority of travel writing out there. She writes frankly about sticky travel issues like cultural relativism and deeply ingrained prejudice. She addresses questions that have no real answers and acknowledges this. Strongly aware of her privilege she turns her critical eye both towards herself for being able to move so freely and for staying occasionally in hotels and towards Indian society in which she can get more medicine for a dog than a women ill ...more
Elly Sands
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Maybe because I spent a month in India many years ago that I found this book so very interesting. I could relate to many of the authors observations. The kind of love/hate relationship. Hate is a strong word perhaps frustration would be better.I vividly remember the streets filled with the chaos of people, cows, carts and traffic and the incessant noise not to mention the bathroom situations. The most unsettling experience I had was being surrounded by Indian women touching my hair and pulling a ...more
Katie
Aug 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Desert Places was an unexpected find. I randomly chose it from the World History shelf at the library because "the cover looks interesting" (I actually said that to myself. . .). After reading the first few pages, I was not sure I would finish but then suddenly I was hooked and by the time I reached the last 30 pages I began to read it extra slowly, as I did not want for it to come to an end. An incredible insight to the daily lives and special occasions of a nomadic people of India as observed ...more
Sashi
Jan 16, 2012 added it
Recommended to Sashi by: Dr. Goldberg
Suggested by a colleague at work. Funny at times, heartbreaking otherwise to realise how we (Asian Indians) can be perceived by others. Very interesting, about an Australian woman travelling with rabari tribes in Gujarat. Unlike most travel writers, she doesn't cover up the truth about India--she tells her experiences in a very feeling way. I am sorry she had to go through what she did. Lets face it, India is like that. But the author still has fond memories and affection for India, which is ver ...more
Elithiya
Oct 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i love this woman.
Mona
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
TITLE: Desert Places
WHY I CHOSE THIS BOOK: It was recommended to me; and it met my reading challenge criteria being connected to the book before it, Desert Terroir, both having the same word in their tittles
REVIEW: The author is a journalist so she knows how to write. She has a critical eye both for evaluating what she sees and what is within herself. Reading about nomadic (migrant) groups in India on the one hand made me want to run out and go to India. On the other hand it scared me about goin
...more
Barb
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is Robyn Davidson's travelog of her trip in northwest India with the nomadic Rabari people. Like so many other tribes around the world, they are losing their nomadic way of life to the modern age. The life of the Rabari people is brutally rough, and Davidson's time with them was also rough. I liked her honesty about her trip, even though the extreme poverty in India was sad and shocking. But many beautiful and heartening events are sprinkled though out the book. And I also thought some ...more
Le
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An educational, enthralling, and beautifully written travelogue. It's not always an easy or pleasant read, but it's not meant to be. If you have ever been the least bit curious about Indian culture and travel, this book is a must-read.
Sara Gray
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
With this book, Davidson has been added to the list of my favorite authors. Stubborn, pithy, compassionate and insightful, this book records her time hanging out with the last migratory nomads of India in the early 1990s. She doesn't shy away from listing the harshest truths of living in India--its extreme poverty, corruption, and despair--but she also keeps well aware of her own position and privilege within its system. It's a gorgeous book, if hard to read at times due to what she puts herself ...more
Christy
May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2013
Travel, as a mountaineer once described mountain climbing, is “the conquest of nothing.” It is an absurd activity, and this you fully understand after reading Robyn Davidson. Tourism is part of the commodity logic of a market system; it has a clear and circumscribed place in that scheme of things, but travel the way Davidson does it is a kind of existentialist, degree zero activity, from which, however, you can actually learn something, because she is a good, vivid writer with neither false prid ...more
Christine Busuttil
Nov 27, 2014 rated it liked it
I bought this book straight after I had read Tracks as I had so enjoyed being with Robyn on her arduous yet adventurous and uplifting journey through part of the Australian outback.I had also spent eighteen months in India ,a month or so of that in Rajasthan when I was in my early twenties.I was particularly interested in her impression of India and more details of Rajasthan.

However before I started reading I had ,like Robyn ,not taken into account the fact that taking camels across a desert ar
...more
Dovofthegalilee
It was a sin how long it took me to read this.I have no idea why I had such a block it turning the pages but I suspect it was due to her winging on and on about her hardships. Isn't that the whole point of this sort of travel? It's going to be difficult, Thesiger she is not. But something bigger is going on here and she says it several times- she was under a contract to produce material for a magazine and had it not been for that she more than likely would have quit and saved all of us the time. ...more
Tara
Jul 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
I first read Davidson's "Tracks" book and loved it, so decided to try this one out, since I am also interested in India. This book quickly becomes confusing and often you can't tell what the plot is. It's probably because the author often found herself (frustratingly) waiting for the people to either accept her and allow her to go along with them into the dessert and having to switch groups altogether, and she has little control over what happens in 99% of her experience anyway. I struggled to r ...more
Daren
I dunno, the first part of the book was interesting, I enjoyed the middle section of the book in Gujarat, but the third part I found difficult to stick with.
Written with a lot of honesty and emotion, it certainly shared the authors thoughts, balanced or not balanced - for me a case of sharing too much of the impulsive thoughts that were reversed the following day.
It ends up at 3 stars, because, as I said i did enjoy the Gujarat section of the book, and that on its own would have been 4 stars.
Di
Nov 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australian
I love this book for its honesty. Robyn Davidson battled illness, ugliness, incredible tiredness and a sense of absolute futility in the journey she undertook.

At the end she is tired and spiritually downcast and the reader absolutely understands what brought her to this spiritual desert, but the book is full of hard wisdom about the struggle to survive, to make the journey (through life) with as much grace as one can muster.
Moira Eberle
Oct 03, 2012 rated it really liked it


Romance vs reality. Everyone I know who has visited India has described it as the setting for both their worst and most amazing experiences in their lives. And lots of these people are veteran travelers.
For me it just clarified my decision not to go anytime soon. I don't think I'm ready for such a transformative experience.
I loved reading this book though and have enjoyed others by her. Feeds the itchy feet gotta go syndrome nicely.
Jodi Ralston
I was really hoping this would be like the book Tracks, but I can see why it was not. The style and tone of the book matches the experience she felt, and it really fits well with what I feel about it all: basically it really showed her disappointment and hardship. It was a great book. I'd recommend reading Tracks first just because of that.
Paula
Aug 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant

Compassion, hatred, empathy, violence, tenderness, beauty, filth, hospitality, abject poverty, riches beyond belief, avarice, disease, hope, despair...India through the eyes of a white women who moved through it all. I felt I was there with her.
Debbie
Apr 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If you love travel writing, read this book. I watched Tracks and was intrigued, but not convinced.
After reading this book, I'm very anxious to read her own written account of her journey across the Australian Nullarbor. Her writing is exquisite.
Sharon Snider
Sep 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read about the caste system in India.

I have read two books by Robyn Davidson. Both are an inside look about two countries I know little about. Amazing that she survives both expeditions.
Sphinx Feathers
Oct 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
A well-written book about an experienced traveler's journey about India. I particularly enjoyed Davidson's word choice through the story as it created very imagery. Although sometimes sad, overall her journey seemed a lonely but enjoyable one.
Ginna
Aug 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I just adore this woman's writing. This story was sad in so many ways, but also just an incredibly well written observation of humanity, with a journey across a desert thrown in. One of the best things I've read in awhile.
Glen
Aug 14, 2007 rated it liked it
I remember being disappointed on this follow up to her outstanding first book. Nonetheless, I did enjoy it.
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Robyn Davidson was born on a cattle property in Queensland, Australia. She went to Sydney in the late sixties, then spent time studying in Brisbane before moving to Alice Springs, where the events of this book begin. Since then, she has traveled extensively, living in London, New York, and India. In the early 1990s, she migrated with and wrote about nomads in northwestern India. She is now based i ...more
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“And there are new kinds of nomads, not people who are at home everywhere, but who are at home nowhere. I was one of them ” 55 likes
“Real travel would be to see the world, for even an instant, with another's eyes” 34 likes
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