Tony's Reviews > Cathedrals of the Flesh: My Search for the Perfect Bath

Cathedrals of the Flesh by Alexia Brue
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it was ok
bookshelves: 2013, travel, reviewed, non-fiction

The concept had potential, but the execution was lacking. This could have been a deeply fascinating look at the nuances of how bathing cultures in Turkey, Greece, Russia, Finland, and Japan differ from each other, and what that says about the underlying differences between them (and the rest of the world), but the treatment is frustratingly shallow. The chapter on Finnish sauna, for example, is always slightly off as she is looking at it through the lens of her recent Russian banya visits, and comes away with the impression that it involves many strict rules — whereas the much more interesting comparisons would be between the different sauna cultures in Finland vs Germany, for example. But rather than really digging into subtleties, we get lots of broad brush strokes (Finns know nothing about Russian sauna culture, because they're old enemies!), plus lots of disjointed travelogue material (such a confusing Russia→Finland icon smuggling tale that adds nothing to the story).

By the epilogue the author realises that the core premise of her trips was faulty — her very low-level focus on practicalities and results and surveying the details required for opening a hamam in New York ended up distracting and detracting from simply relaxing and enjoying the different baths and cultures. But she doesn't take the small extra step of wondering what that should have meant for the book about the trips.
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Reading Progress

November 8, 2013 – Started Reading
November 8, 2013 – Shelved
November 8, 2013 – Finished Reading
January 5, 2014 – Shelved as: 2013
January 5, 2014 – Shelved as: travel
September 9, 2014 – Shelved as: reviewed
May 23, 2015 – Shelved as: non-fiction

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