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Badlands Format Kindle
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|Longueur : 352 pages||Word Wise: Activé||Composition améliorée: Activé|
|Page Flip: Activé||Langue : Anglais|
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Co-founder (with his wife, Maureen) of Lonely Planet Publications, Tony Wheeler here describes his travels through nine countries generally considered "bad lands" by Western societies because of their poor treatment of their own citizens, their involvement in terrorism, and the threat they pose to other countries. The nine are Afghanistan, Albania, Myanmar (Burma), Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia. Except for areas in Iraq which Wheeler was careful to skirt, none of the nine are particularly dangerous for the individual visitor.
In the genre of travel essays, BAD LANDS is commendably out of the ordinary in that it includes a 16-page center section of color photographs. I guess if your book is being published your own publishing company, you can afford this extravagance.
While reading the first chapter on Afghanistan, I thought Wheeler's writing rather stiff and I was somewhat dreading the experience of the whole. But in following chapters, he loosens up considerably and becomes a congenial and wryly humorous guide. For instance, this paragraph about Cuba:
"Every other woman walking by was wearing the standard Cuban fashion statements: short, tight, low, high, stretched. Preferably in Lycra ... In Cuba no women can be too big, too wide, too round for Lycra. 'Thrusting femininity' was the two-word definition of the Cuban approach to fashion, according to one visiting travel writer ..."
Published in 2007, BAD LANDS provides a roomy front window for the reader to peer out into the contemporary society of each nation visited, as well as useful rear window overlooking their recent pasts.
I'd award five stars except for the last two chapters, "The Evil Meter" and "Other Bad Lands: The Extended List." In the former, Tony rates, on a scale of 1 to 10, each of the nine subject nations: 1-3 points for domestic oppression, 1-3 for support or participation in terrorism, 1-3 for international belligerency, and a bonus point for Personality Cult centered around the national leader. I didn't mind so much that Wheeler calibrated his meter with such countries as the United States, Australia, the UK, and France and found them registering on the scale, albeit at a low level. But, when he carried the concept over into the latter chapter and mentions such garden spots as Somalia, Congo/Zaire, Angola, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Syria and (in his mind) the evil conjoined twins, Israel and Palestine, without making even the most rudimentary mention of an obvious twosome, resurgent Russia and China, then I began to doubt his objectivity. Perhaps he should just stay with travel writing and skip the editorializing.
Apart from Saudi Arabia, the rest of the countries in the list have all been demonised by the Western media. Are they really that bad? This book does not pretend to have all the answers or even the last say. Wheeler's writing style is rather typical of the humourous, cynical, sarcastic and sometimes overly opinionated style that you may encounter in Lonely Planet guides.
There's quite a bit of on-the-road reports and even more "background info" which is obtained more from research than personal experience. Informative this book is, but it is certainly not a scholarly piece or anything close to investigative journalism. Wheeler was just a tourist (and he states that explicitly on the cover of the book). There were only a couple of times when the author encountered danger. You won't read about any prohibited entries into restricted areas, illegal investigations, shocking revelations and close brushes with the authorities. It's just the sort of travelogue that you and I might write if we ever dare to go to all these places. I have only been to Myanmar myself. Afghanistan and Iraq? No way. This is certainly not the sort of travelogue that anyone can write. For that and for readability, I give the author some credit even though there is nothing sensational about this book.
At the end of the book, is an Evil Meter. True to the judgemental Lonely Planet spirit, he author judges the evilness of each country by his own subjective and limited knowledge - which is probably an unintentional joke. It doesn't spoil the fun of reading the book, but the author doesn't win any credibility points either.
On the other hand, the narrative is entertaining and the travel log discussion is interesting. I bought the book to learn things about the countries he visited and what life is like there for both locals and tourists. The book is not a complete failure from this perspective, but I expected better.
Find a book written by a political scientist or historian on these countries instead if you are looking for what I was looking for.
There are several reasons why this is not the ultimate Axis of Evil guide that you have been waiting for.
First, there are countries that evidently should be included in such a guide that are missing. For one thing Sub-Sahara Africa is not even represented. Sudan, Ivory Coast, Somalia, Congo and Zimbabwe are only a few of the most obvious countries that he can pick from. Several of them have unique places and activities for travellers and an interesting history as well and have therefore a potential to become far better chapters than the weakest of those already included. Would not Sudan be better than Cuba? And it is quite obvious that with one country representing Europe, it should be Belarus and not Albania. And talking about former Soviet Republics, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, have interesting destinations for tourists a rich history and Soviet Union past to spice up the chapter with. Latin America and the Middle east are two sources for other potential great chapters.
Albania illustrates the 2nd shortcoming of the book, that there are several countries that hardly belong in this book. Germany would be a better choice than Albania, as their both got rid of their communistic dictatorship at about the same time, but Germany would in addition have the 3rd Reich, WWII and more cold war stuff to spice of the chapter with. As Wheelers point out himself, he found Cuba slightly boring - then why not find a more interesting country to write about?
The 3rd point is the varying quality of the chapters. Wheelers really knows his Afghanistan and the chapter on Iran is also good. He finds Cuba boring and to some extent that is reflected in his writing. I totally agree with the reviewer saying that Lebanon has no business in the Burma chapter. Either let it out or write a chapter of it. Writing a chapter of Iraq that only covers the Kurdish region is involuntarily funny. I can very well understand he did not go, but there are other sources of information...
What countries that is finally included I guess is not that important. What is important is that all the chapters that is included is equally good. Now it is like that 2/3 of the book is quite good, the rest consists of chapters that should be worked more on and/or chapters that should be thrown out because he could choose from other countries that he succeeded better on writing about.
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