A couple of non-fiction DNFs

>> Saturday, April 12, 2014

Two books that sounded fascinating, but ended up being a disappointment.

TITLE: Amber, Furs and Cockleshells: Bike Rides with Pilgrims and Merchants
AUTHOR: Anne Mustoe

Mustoe is a keen cyclist and in Amber, Furs and Cockleshells we get an account of some of her travels. Each of the three items in the title describes one of the trails she describes in this book. First is the Amber Route (quite simply, the route through which amber from the Baltic was traded south towards the Mediterranean). That's about as far as I got. I missed the Santa Fe Trail (across the Western USA), where I assume furs were traded, as well as the route of the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, in Northwestern Spain (pilgrims would carry a cockleshell as a symbol that they'd done the pilgrimage).

I stopped reading after about 60 pages, halfway through the Amber Route. The problem was that although the locations Mustoe was cycling through must have been amazing, she wasn't making them come alive. Nor was she providing any of the other things that could make a travel book interesting, whether it's providing insightful cultural commentary or comedy. I find that in travel books the narrator is just as important as the subject matter, and Mustoe was a really bland one. I didn't hate this book, it just bored me.


TITLE: Married To A Bedouin
AUTHOR: Marguerite van Geldermalsen

The author visited Petra in the late 70s and fell in love with a man she met there, a Bedouin. She lived there with him and his family until his death, 24 years later. I thought it'd be interesting to read, having just visited Petra, especially to see how how it's changed over the years.

I didn't get very far into it. After the initial visit where she meets the future husband, the author is invited back by him to attend a Bedouin wedding. The bride is a young girl the author describes as maybe 13, who's marrying a man much older than her. Everyone readily tells van Geldermalsen that the girl doesn't want to marry him, or even like him, but he has paid a very good bride price. So then, through all the wedding preparations, while van Geldermalsen prattled on about the dresses and how they applied kohl on her eyes and henna on her hands, and how pretty everyone looked, I couldn't stop thinking that the girl next to her was about to get raped with everyone's connivance. And all van Geldermalsen will do is describe her as sullen and grumpy (well, you would be, if you were about to get raped) and then blithely go about enjoying the party. It did not endear me to her, and I didn't feel like continuing to read.



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